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One of the earliest uses of chemistry by humans was most likely fire. Fire would have been used for:
  • warmth, light, protection
  • cooking foods (of major importance in terms of disease control)

The use of medicine would also have been chemistry-related. Some ancient remedies are still used today, such as:
  • wound protection, burn care from aloe
  • medicinal painkillers, like willow
  • anti-malarial medicines, such as cinchona
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In fact, there are some natural remedies that grow around here:



This is actually a field of chemistry known as natural products chemistry, which is very popular and interesting.


The very first elements found in their natural state were most likely gold, silver, and copper.
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These elements would have been (and still are) valuable and would have been used for:
  • currency and trade
  • jewelry/decorations
  • weaponry or tools
  • idols
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Gold Idol from Raiders of the Lost Ark




One of the most important resources for human survival was water. Fresh, clean water would be the first thing to look for when developing a camp or village, and still is today, even for vast metropolis like New York City.
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Waterborne diseases have been plaguing humanity for all time. Some of the most prominent diseases are:
  • cryptosporidia and/or giardia - protozoans that can cause intestinal disorders, vomiting and dehydration
  • cholera - a bacteria that can cause intestinal problems, nosebleeds, and shock; can be fatal
  • dysentery - a bacteria that can cause internal bleeding of the digestive tract
  • botulism - bacterial infection causing muscle paralysis, respiratory failure
  • typhoid fever - bacterial infection causing high fever, delerium
  • viral infections including hepatitis A, polio, and SARS

The most common source of water pollution is from human sewage and waste. Until the development of sewer systems that would transport waste away from homes, this pollution source was a major problem in urban areas. Stagnant water also caused the threat of the mosquito-borne illnesses: malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever.

Water treatment began with simple filtration through sand. Eventually it was discovered that charcoal was a very effective filter and could remove protozoa like giardia. However, it was not until 1908 when the first chlorination plant was used to disinfect water, in Jersey City.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put together a nice summary of the history of water treatment.


File:WasteWaterTreatmentWorks.jpg
File:WasteWaterTreatmentWorks.jpg