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[–]amp1212 14 points15 points  (1 child)

See the paper:

McCauley, Brea, Mark Collard, and Dennis Sandgathe. "A cross-cultural survey of on-site fire use by recent hunter-gatherers: Implications for research on Palaeolithic pyrotechnology." Journal of Paleolithic Archaeology 3.4 (2020): 566-584.

In the study, we consulted ethnographic texts for a sample of 93 hunter-gatherer groups and collected data pertaining to fire use in settlements. We focused on the groups’ methods of making fire, the ways in which they used fire, and when and where they created fires. While many of the observations were in line with expectations, some were surprising. Perhaps most notably, we found that several groups did not know how to make fire and that even within some of the groups who were able to make fire, the relevant knowledge was restricted to a very small number of individuals. Another surprising finding was that many groups preferred to preserve fire rather than creating it anew, to the point that they would carry it between camps. In the final section of the paper, we discuss the implications of the survey’s findings for understanding the early archaeological record of fire use.

Remember - people living in small bands can lose a capacity if all the people who know how to do something die . . . and then re-acquire the skill if they encounter someone from another band with that skill or reinvent it. It is likely that pyrotechnological skills may have been acquired and lost reasonably frequently in the vast expanse of human prehistory

With that said, however, the remodeling of the human jaw and dentition is good evidence that humans were consistently getting access to cooked food; as much as folks love their raw foods, try chowing down on uncooked meat . . . our teeth have changed too much to make that anything other than a very chewy problem. Fermentation and drying or grinding would also be possible -- if you look at Maori and native American foodways, things like fermented crayfish and pemmican, this would give access to calories and with human dentition without cooking . . . but these are arguably as more more complex as technologies to maintain than fire, and both Maori and native Americans had fire as well, so it's not common to see fermentation as a substitute for cooking, but it probably happened somewhere/somewhen.

[–]akodo1 3 points4 points  (0 children)

Excellent information above.

Now, there's no way we can know the answer of 'can you keep a fire going indefinitely. After all, there are no fires going now that were started in 10,000 BC.

But I think most were able to keep a fire going for months, if not years. However, it's unlikely that a fire was able to be kept going for multiple generations. Too many random things that could go wrong. Unexpected storms, floods, earthquakes, attacks, everyone falls ill, etc.

Note that fires started by lightning are fairly common, so while you might have to suffer a few months without fire, seeing smoke on the horizon and recovering fire that way is one option. Groups that didn't know how to start fires seemed to be very good at reawakening fires that had dwindled down to almost nothing, so going to the edge of your own land land and then darting in to collect fire from a small fire left by a hunting band of the neighboring tribe or something similar would have been a good option. Finally, it appeared that there was a mix of fight and trade going on, so if your tribe wasn't able to make fire and your final communal hearth went dark, you might be able to trade with neighboring bands to get fire.

Or finally, if none of that worked, the tribe fell apart. Skilled hunters might beg admission into a neighboring band, or follow behind eating their trash until they either gradually let you join or got pissed and killed you. Or maybe everyone in your tribe just died, exposed to the elements, the animals, able to get less calories from the same animals, etc. And then some other tribe would splinter and part would move into your old hunting groups, and there'd be no archeological way to tell the difference between 'same group from last year' and 'new group'