Magazine article Whole Earth

Hands-On Fire-Crafting

Magazine article Whole Earth

Hands-On Fire-Crafting

Article excerpt

Out of the campfire evolved the stove, the furnace, and the kiln, and from cooking came the technologies of ceramics and metallurgy. Glass, glaze, enamel, bricks, clay linings for irrigation ditches and pipes, plaster and cement, pottery, and artifacts of tin, copper, bronze, gold, silver, and iron all enriched and reshaped human life, not only by society's direct absorption but indirectly by redefining what natural materials were valuable. Deposits of good clay became as valuable as caches of chert in paleolithic times; copper lodes loomed as critical as prime soils....

... Fire quarrying sank tunnels through soil, permafrost, and rock; candies and lanterns illuminated underground shafts for miners; the assayer's flame determined the character of prospective lodes; hot fires roasted raw ore and sustained its laborious smelting into metal; furnaces allowed casting into axes, knives, picks, coins, cannons, belts, jewelry. Without the concentrated power off ire, peoples had to rely on opportunistic foraging, on exposed veins of native copper, placered nuggets of gold; iron meterorites. With fire, however, they could literally force open the earth for raw material, forge new tools, and redefine their relationship to the landscape--to the biosphere as well as to the lithosphere, because fire required fuel and the prodigious fires of great mines required equally immense mountains of fuelwood.--Vestal Fire, Steven J. Pyne (see page 14)

The alchemist, like the smith, and like the potter before him, is a "master of fire." It is with fire that he controls the passage of matter from one state to another. The first potter who, with the aid of live embers, was successful in hardening those shapes which he had given to his clay, must have felt the intoxication of the demiurge: he had discovered a transmuting agent. That which natural heat--from the sun or the bowels of the earth--took so long to ripen, was transformed by fire at a speed hitherto undreamed of. …

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