Fire is an ancient energy source and “the use of fire” is a unique human cultural behavior.
Once humans began using fire, what characteristic behaviors did they develop? In the creation of material cultures, what was the next step in the evolution of the use of fire? What was its ultimate goal?
Among the uses of fire, the most mysterious is that associated with the spiritual world and rituals. How did such connections form? What messages do they convey?
This exhibition reveals the secrets behind the evolution of the use of fire and, through displays of archaeological and ethnological objects, introduces the unique development processes related to the use of fire in prehistoric Taiwan.
The first use of fire by humans can be traced back to the era of Homo erectus, one million years ago. Due to the power of fire itself and the mystical nature of how it was discovered, there are many romantic and mysterious legends and myths regarding its origin.
Legends of how fire originated differ between peoples living on an island, such as Taiwan, and those living on a continent. They do not involve obtaining fire directly from a god or the invention of fire by the ancestors. Rather, they are stories of travel to distant places to retrieve fire. What is special about these legends is that many animals face challenges to help people obtain fire and they pass on wisdom related to the use of fire.
Come and embark on a journey in search of fire with an animal companion!
Fire is the product of the violent oxidation of matter. The heat and brightness of fire are forms of energy. The controlled use of fire has brought convenience to many aspects of human life.
Fire providing heat for cooking food is the most basic function of fire. Prehistoric cooking methods include roasting over an open fire, stone boiling and smoking.
With the illumination provided by firelight, humans gained a new advantage in their evolution. They were able to be active at night, to live deep inside caves, and to expand their living areas.
The manufacturing of tools provided an advantage for humans in their survival. Before they knew how to smelt metals, they used wood and bones to produce spears and arrowheads and knew how to smoke them to increase their hardness.
During prehistoric times, it was no easy task to generate a fire. Based on practice and experience, prehistoric peoples developed fire starting techniques, constructed kilns and furnaces, and selected suitable fuel sources. Using fire involves knowing how to start a fire and keep it going. The most well-known fire starting techniques are striking flint rocks and drilling wood, each of which is based on different types of traditional knowledge. The preservation of tinder was based on ancient wisdom. After all, it was not easy to start a fire in early times. Flame sticks, which often appear in martial arts films, are tools for preserving tinder.
Fuel is one of the elements needed to maintain a fire. In prehistoric times, fuel sources were animal or plant-based. Such as the feces of herbivores and woody mushrooms were used as tinder. The emergence of charcoal is thought to be related to ironmaking.
In the early history of the use of fire, people searched for convenient and fast fire starting techniques. Later, they sought ways to achieve higher and higher temperatures. To melt harder and more complex ores, fuel sources and furnaces continue to evolve. From fire pits to three stone stove, Iron-smelting furnace to downdraft kiln.
In the biological world, only humans know how to use fire. The use of fire promoted physical changes and affected the development of cognitive behaviors, making humans unique among all organisms.
Archaeologists believe that early peoples did not eat certain foods unless cooked using fire, such as grains, toxic rhizomes, and legumes.
Nutrients from food that is cooked are easier for the body to absorb. Eating of cooked foods led to physical changes including smaller teeth, narrower face, smaller intestines and stomach, and increased brain volume.
The use of fire also brought changes to interpersonal relationships. Cooking involves multiple food preparation steps. Preparing and divvying up of food require division of labor and cooperation, which promotes mutual assistance and sharing, and enhances interpersonal relationships.
Fire is used to communicate with the supernatural world, for example, asking for blessings and protection against misfortune, such as disease or disaster, and is involved in the passing on of heritage. It is endowed with spiritual meaning, including the expression of reverence for the supernatural, and is believed to bring peace of mind.
In the traditional ceremonies of many ethnic groups, fire is a means of communicating between the mortal and supernatural worlds, conveying the prayers and hopes of people for their lives and descendants, and passing on heritage.
In many religions, flames symbolize decontamination, rebirth, purification, and ridding of bad luck.
A common ritual related to religious beliefs is the use of fire to ignite a combustible material to produce smoke, conveying human desires for peace and success and providing a means for communicating with the supernatural world.
Since humans began using fire, their most important discoveries have been related to changes in the qualities and forms of matter. Moreover, humans continue to evolve in their use of fire, producing stronger and harder substances at higher temperatures.
Since the ancient pit firing method can only reach a temperature of 500-800 degrees, other components are mixed into clay acted as flux, enabling clay to be sintered. Painted pottery appeared, laying the foundation for the development of glazed pottery.
Smelting of ore, unnecessary metal compounds are removed, followed by sintering. The appearance of metal tools shows that the furnace fire used to smelt ore at that time has reached 1000-1100 degrees. Prehistoric peoples developed bellows and blast furnace to achieve the temperature needed to smelt ore.
The main component of glaze and glass is quartz sand. New kilns with firing chamber, fire box and flue appeared, and the temperature of the fire was increased at least 1500 degrees. Highly transparent glazes and glassware and hard dense glass could be produced.
Fire can bring physical and mental comfort. Plumes of smoke and warmth soothe the mind and heal the body.
In ancient times, tobacco and incense were considered means for communicating with the heavens and to have medicinal effects. Rising smoke conveyed people’s reverence, while wisps of smoke were likened to spirits that provide protection.
Irons and heaters were common in earlier times, with red hot charcoal bricks placed inside.
In traditional Chinese medicine, cupping utilizes heat. With the function of detoxification and dehumidification