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Man the fire starter on Origins: The Journey of Humankind hosted by Jason Silva

Origins: The Journey of Humankind
Origins: The Journey of Humankind

Origins: The Journey of Humankind is a new series from National Geographic that looks back at the innovations that catapulted humans from small roaming bands of hunter gatherers to the dominant species on the planet.

This first episode looks at how the discovery and mastery of fire helped humans protect themselves from both predators and weather. Humans large brains evolved at the expense of physical strength and this left us relatively weak compared with some of the predators who viewed us as food.

Fire allowed us to cook food and stay warm in cold climes
Fire allowed us to cook food and stay warm in cold climes

Luckily those brains also allowed for co-operative behaviour, the creation of weapons and perhaps most vitally the ability to control fire. How the first humans discovered fire is unknown but you can imagine them becoming familiar with it through natural forest fires or even by accident when using some tool. Whatever the reason, this invention did more than just about any other to propel us into the modern age.

Sulphur, saltpeter, pine resin, and carbon mixed gave us gunpowder
Sulphur, saltpeter, pine resin, and carbon mixed gave us gunpowder

Initially fire allowed for the defense against predators, cooking food and surviving in cold climates. But later it was used to clear forest for agriculture, process minerals and to forge metal items. As civilisations began to spring up across the globe inventions like gunpowder in 13th century China led us gradually to the point where we could put a man on the Moon.

From the plains of Africa to space
From the plains of Africa to space

However, fire also has a destructive side that wiped out great medieval cities such as London and many ancient cities fell victim to its ravages. Though of course that very destruction allowed some cities to reshape themselves for the modern world, which is exactly what happened with London.

Futurist Brain Games star Jason Silva hosts the docu-drama that traces the key inventions and discoveries that shaped our species history.


Watch Origins: The Journey of Humankind – Spark of Civilization at 9 PM on National Geographic.

James has worked for Monsters and Critics since it started back in 2003. He oversees the business and technical side of things. You can contact... read more
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