Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/32

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
22
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

and, in desperation, threw the fire toward the river, there to quench it forever. But, fortunately for the black man, the sharp-eyed hawk was hovering near, and, seeing the fire fall into the water, with a stroke of his wine: he knocked the brand far over the stream into the long, dry grass of the opposite bank, and the flames spread over the face of the country. The black man then felt the fire, and said it was good."[1]

Did prehistoric man possess fire? If we are to believe the Abbé Bourgeois, man was in possession of fire since Miocene times. This assertion rests upon the discovery in the sands of the Orleanais of a fragment of artificial paste [2] mixed with charcoal, and lying in the midst of mastodon and dinotherium bones. It also rests, but not so firmly, upon the discovery by the same savant of cracked flints in the neighborhood of Thenay, not far from the banks of the lake of Beauce. These flints appear to bear plain traces of the action of fire; but may not these be due to lightning? If not, where are the ashes, where the charcoal which naturally would accompany the flints if they had been really brought under the action of fire? Then, where is the fireplace? Hence, the Abbé Bourgeois's deduction is not an impossible one, though in my opinion it is by no means demonstrated.

But, though the discovery of fire in Miocene times may be questioned, it cannot be denied that in the earliest Quaternary times this element was known to man. Several fireplaces, ashes, charcoal, bones, either entire or partly calcined, fragments of coarse pottery blackened by smoke, and similar objects, have been found in caverns belonging to the epoch of the Cave Bear, and of the Reindeer and the Polished Stone age. These things prove that the men who inhabited the caves commonly enough cooked their food, thus making it more readily digestible.

With the aid of fire, prehistoric man cremated his dead, hollowed out his pirogue, and saved from too rapid destruction the lower extremity of the piles on which he built his lake-dwellings. And not only did the troglodyte and the lacustrian know how to cook their food and warm their habitations, but they also were acquainted with various methods of lighting them during the darkness of night. There have been found in the Lake of Geneva carbonized sticks of resinous wood, which, in all probability, once were employed for this latter purpose. Just as the Esquimaux now light their snow huts by means of lamps fed with the oil of the porpoise or the whale, so did the Danes of the kitchen-middens use, for illuminating purposes, a wick made of moss, one end of which was introduced into the stomach of a great penguin (Alca impennis) filled with fat.

The use of flint, quartz, and iron pyrites, in the Lacustrian period, for procuring fire by striking these substances against one another, is

  1. Vol. i., p. 139.
  2. Paste, the mineral substance in which other minerals are imbedded.—Webster.