From fire to the lampe


The origin of “light” allegedly goes all the way back to the biblical Genesis, with the initial verse “Let there be light, and there was light.” As the myth sets this initial quote at a point before Time began, it can evidently not be associated with any constructive date in global history. We shall not try to solve this mystery. Paleontology, however, has shown that the Earth is several billions of years old. Paleontology also tells us that the common origin of life of all living beings that currently exist or have existed at one time, must have occurred more than three and a half billion years ago. There is no doubt that light has, at all times, been an indispensable prerequisite for the development and evolution of life.


Nature itself generated the first fires. Intensity of sunbeams as well as lightning strikes occasionally set the prairies on fire; this is how the predecessors of Homo erectus first experienced fire.
However, fire and flame still remained mysterious. During Early Stone Age (also known as Lower Paleolithic), man first had to learn how to carefully safeguard the fires provided by nature, and to keep them going. Subsequent to that, mankind had to develop an entirely new skill, so to say its first common intellectual achievement: the art of kindling a fire through the use of flint stones. Looking back at this from our present times, it would seem hard to imagine all the various evolutionary stages in this lengthy learning process. It appears probable that this was the crucial point in time when primitive men first started to comprehend their superiority over other forms of life. It can also be assumed that this was the turning point at which early mankind, at least subconsciously, began to distinguish between the four principal elements that constitute the world: earth, water, air, and fire.
We know that this long learning process continued throughout the entire Paleolithic. It was in all certainty a remarkable step forward that was, in turn, essential for anthropogenesis and further evolution. The scientific research conducted in the second half of the twentieth century by the three eminent prehistorians André Leroi-Gourhan, Henry de Lumley and Yves Coppens, convincingly demonstrates that the domestication of fire was of considerable importance in the evolutionary process of human development. The three scientists’ numerous publications substantiate this in detail. This was definitely mankind’s first great adventure.
Throughout the protohistoric and early historic eras, fire also triggered numerous inventions. Man started to learn to use it also for baking clay to produce pottery. Once the first primitive characters of writing were invented, man used fire to make writing tablets out of clay. And several thousand years later in the history of civilization, man discovered metals, meaning that he needed fire to melt it and cast household items and manufacture tools. Men also used fire to forge arms as needed for their survival as well as for combat. For ages, the knowledge, control and mastery of fire has been crucial for survival. The world-renowned 1911 novel « La guerre du feu » (in English: « Quest for Fire ») by Belgian author J. H. Rosny-Aîné has described this very well. The unforgettable movie based on the novel clearly demonstrates the essential rôle of fire in evolution.

 The original lamplight

Though practically all commonly known types of oil lamps date from the early eras of recorded history all the way to modernity, the initial appearance of lamps must be assumed in prehistoric times. This makes it all the more difficult to properly date the earliest origins of domestic sources of light. The first sources of light evidently originated from fire. However, thousands of years passed from domestication and reproduction of fire until the invention and use of the first lamps, i.e. up to a point in time when one can begin to speak of actual tallow lamps and oil lamps. Quite similar to the first learning process involved with the domestication of fire, it must certainly also be assumed that the utilization of portable fires and lamps required a long evolutionary time span which originated in Late Stone Age (also known as Upper Paleolithic).

The birth of the Torch

First, people have simply used the light of the flames of the hearth  as lighting source, on which they cooked their food. When using ember in a household to have light in other areas of the house, you certainly came up with the idea of ember, even use it at the sedentary. It was still finding a way to keep the flame burning, as the embers quickly expired, it was poorly suited in the houses, as a means of lighting. Since the possibility to generate the light through embers, no matter how little ember was needed, was known and it was easy to carry, is certainly created in the minds of the people at that time, the idea to use utensils that are easy to transport. Animal fat and bone thrown into the fire burned with a beautiful glow. The use of a stick, rubbed with animal fat and making to burn, replaced the ember.

The torch was born.

The birth of the lamp

In addition, the use of stones with concave cavities for transporting, the animal fat  feeds the flame, obviously the logical deduction, and had an advantage over the torch, because the stones with burning fat were easy to carry and could be put at any desired places. With the development of cutting the stones, shaping a bowl in stone was possible.

The lamp is born.

The use of these two mobile hearths, was not the result of an invention. There was no spontaneous discovery, but a result of a slow development and the observation what kind of things are required, discovery, imagination and creativity. The production and operation of torches and lamps need many things. The extraction of fat from animals killed for food, choosing the best fats for this purpose, their preparation, their use on a stick for torches and the bowls for stone lamps and lamp wicks. The choice of plant fibers for the wicks, especially lichens and dry mosses.