How Did They Start Fires in Ancient Times?

Fire has been a crucial element for human survival since ancient times. It was used for cooking, warmth, light, and protection from predators.

But how did ancient people start fires without matches or lighters? In this article, we will explore the various methods used by ancient people to start fires.

Friction-Based Fire Starting

One of the most common methods used by ancient people was friction-based fire starting. This method involved rubbing two pieces of wood together to create heat and spark. The two most popular types of wood used for this method were the fire plow and the bow drill.

The fire plow involved using a stick to create friction on a flat piece of wood until it started smoking. By blowing on the smoking ember, it could be turned into a flame. The bow drill was another popular method that involved using a cord and a bow to rotate a stick against a wooden board until it created enough friction to produce an ember.

Flint and Steel

Another popular method used by ancient people was flint and steel fire starting. This method involved striking a piece of flint against steel to produce sparks which were then caught in dry tinder such as grass, leaves or bark which would then ignite into flames.

Animal Fat

Before matches were invented, another popular way to start fires was through animal fat. Animal fat such as tallow or lard was placed on dry tinder which would then be lit with sparks from flint and steel or by holding it over burning embers.

The Sun

Believe it or not, the sun can also be used to start fires! Ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and Romans used lenses made of glass or crystal to focus sunlight onto dry tinder which could then ignite into flames.


In conclusion, there are many inventive ways that ancient people started fires without modern-day tools such as matches or lighters. Friction-based methods such as the fire plow and bow drill, flint and steel, animal fat, and even the sun were all utilized to create the much-needed fire for survival. As we reflect on these ancient methods, it’s important to appreciate the ingenuity of our ancestors who used their knowledge of their environment to create fire from what was available to them.