Wednesday, June 13, 2007 06/13/07-Fire, Cooking, and Language

In today's excerpt--fire, cooking, restrained impulses, and language:

"Many peoples have had legends of heroic figures or magical beasts who first seize fire, often from the gods. Perhaps this reflects a dim memory that the first fire was taken from a natural source, whether from volcanic activity, an outbreak of natural gas, or a blazing forest. However it was obtained, the use of fire was revolutionary. ... Immediately, it meant warmth and light, the conquest of the cold and the dark and therefore the extension of the habitable environment into them, even if only a little way at first. ... By occupying caves whose darkness had previously made them unusable, they were safer from the weather. Animals could now be driven out of their lairs and kept out. Wooden spears could be hardened in fire. Cooking became possible. As a result, eating became easier; marrow can be sucked out of cooked bones but getting it out raw is a laborious experience. Gibbons and gorillas have to spend much of their time simply chewing their raw food; cooking saved time, for food softened by it did not have to be chewed so long. Time was thus made available to do other things. More important still, substances indigestible in their raw state could become sources of food; distasteful or bitter plants could be made edible. This must have increased food supply and therefore made population growth a little easier. ... Finally, in the long run, eating cooked food helped to alter the shape of the face and the form of the teeth.

"Cooking would have encouraged further restraint on immediate impulses, too: you put off eating and did not give way to immediate appetite by swallowing raw food. The focus of the cooking fire as a source of light and warmth would have brought people together around it after dark and helped make a group more aware of itself as a community. They would have talked somehow: the development of language--of whose origins we know little--must have speeded up in this setting.

J.M.Roberts, A Short History of the World, Oxford, 2007, p. 10.


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