THE PRODUCTION OF FIREby@scientificamerican


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In 1867 the Abbé Bourgeois found at Thenay, near Pont-levoy (Loir-et-Cher), in a marly bank belonging to the most ancient part of the middle Tertiary formation, fragments of silex which bore traces of the action of fire. This fire had not been lighted by accidental causes, for, says Mr. DeMortillet (Le Prehistorique, p. 90), the causes of instantaneous conflagrations can be only volcanic fires, fermentations, and lightning. "Now, in the entire region there is no trace of volcanic action, and neither are there any traces of turfy or vegetable deposits capable of giving rise to spontaneous inflammations--phenomena that are always very rare and very exceptional, as are also conflagrations started by lightning. Well, in the Thenay marls, the pieces of silex that had undergone the action of fire were found disseminated at different levels, and this could not have been a simple accident, but was evidently something that had been done intentionally. There existed, then, during the Aquitanian epoch, a being who was acquainted with fire and knew how to produce it." Mr. De Mortillet supposes that this being was an animal intermediate between man and the monkey, which he calls the anthropopithecus. This precursor of man made use of fire for splitting silex and manufacturing from it instruments whose cutting edge he perfected by means of a series of retouchings produced by slight percussions upon one of the surfaces only. I shall not enter in this place upon a discussion as to the existence of an anthropopithecus or Tertiary man, whom every one does not as yet accept, but will confine myself to giving the facts as to the use of fire in the remotest epochs, incontestable proofs of which exist from the time at which Quaternary man made his appearance. How this was discovered is indicated, according to Aryan tradition, by the Vedic hymns. The ancestors of the Aryans, these tell us, had seen the lighting dart forth from the shock of black clouds. They had seen the spark that fired the forests issue from the friction of dry branches agitated by the storm. They took a branch of soft wood, arani, and passing a thong around a branch of hard wood, pramontha, they caused it to revolve rapidly in a cavity in the arani, and thus evoked the god Agni, whom they nourished with libations of clarified butter, soma. The Pramontha, became the Prometheus of the Greeks, the Titan who stole the fire, and it is from the Sanscrit Agni that is derived the Latin Ignis, "fire," and the Greek Αγνος, "pure," and the Agnus Dei of the Christians, who purifies all.
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