The history of the fire pit is a microcosm of our human culture through the years. Much of our ancestral music, dance, art, religion, and philosophy is innately connected to either time spent around a fire, or to the fire itself.
Early man discovered that placing fire in a pit would help contain it and reduce the dangers of uncontrolled wildfires. Someone had to be assigned the task of keeping the fire burning. The duty of firewatcher was sometimes assigned to a youth, but in many cultures the role developed into the responsibility of the priesthood.
Archeologists are delighted to unearth old fire pits because they reveal so much about a culture-the diet is revealed by learning what foods were cooked, the technology determined by discovering what utensils were used there, and perhaps the greatest revelations are derived from the identification of items that were burned as trash.
Music and Dance
Ceremonial dances have been performed around fire on continents and islands throughout the world. The songs, chants and choreography almost always had spiritual or religious meanings.
Raku is a technique for firing earthenware. The term comes from the Japan where the process was highly refined to make vessels used in tea ceremonies, but the practice of hardening pottery by baking it in a fire pit has been used the world over.
Writing and Drawing
Charcoal is an inexpensive writing material produced as a byproduct of burning wood. The Egyptians may have been the first to use charcoal for writing hieroglyphics, but the formula for making high-quality writing ink from charcoal was well known in the Middle Ages.
Tribal councils were usually held around pits because they offered a source of both heat and light. Some of the statecraft of the Celts took place around a central pit where offerings were thrown into the flame to seal the bargain.
Myths of early civilizations vary considerably in explaining the origins of fire. For some it was the gift of a benevolent god, but other cultures regarded fire as stolen from a vainglorious one. Evidence of pits and altar fires have been found at many of the earliest digs.
Today’s fire pits are associated with leisure and entertainment. Cleaner burning gas fire pits are found indoors at ski resorts, hunting lodges and many restaurants. Backyard patio fire pits are popular for casual entertaining.