IELTS Academic Reading Sample 32 - A spark, a flint: How fire leapt to life

IELTS Academic Reading Passage 32

You should spend about 20 minutes on Questions 1-15 which are based on Reading Passage below:

A spark, a flint: How fire leapt to life

The control of fire was the first and perhaps greatest of humanity’s steps towards a life-enhancing technology.

ielts reading sample 32To early man, the fire was a divine gift randomly delivered in the form of lightning, forest fire or burning lava. Unable to make flame for themselves, the earliest peoples probably stored fire by keeping slow burning logs alight or by carrying charcoal in pots.

How and where man learnt how to produce flame at will is unknown. It was probably a secondary invention, accidentally made during tool-making operations with wood or stone. Studies of primitive societies suggest that the earliest method of making fire was through friction. European peasants would insert a wooden drill in a round hole and rotate it briskly between their palms This process could be speeded up by wrapping a cord around the drill and pulling on each end.

The Ancient Greeks used lenses or concave mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays and burning glasses were also used by Mexican Aztecs and the Chinese.

Percussion methods of fire-lighting date back to Paleolithic times, when some Stone Age toolmakers discovered that chipping flints produced sparks. The technique became more efficient after the discovery of iron, about 5000 years ago In Arctic North America, the Eskimos produced a slow-burning spark by striking quartz against iron pyrites, a compound that contains sulphur. The Chinese lit their fires by striking porcelain with bamboo. In Europe, the combination of steel, flint and tinder remained the main method of fire lighting until the mid 19th century.

Fire-lighting was revolutionized by the discovery of phosphorus, isolated in 1669 by a German alchemist trying to transmute silver into gold. Impressed by the element’s combustibility, several 17th-century chemists used it to manufacture fire-lighting devices, but the results were dangerously inflammable. With phosphorus costing the equivalent of several hundred pounds per ounce, the first matches were expensive.

The quest for a practical match really began after 1781 when a group of French chemists came up with the Phosphoric Candle or Ethereal Match, a sealed glass tube containing a twist of paper tipped with phosphorus. When the tube was broken, air rushed in, causing the phosphorus self-combust. An even more hazardous device, popular in America, was the Instantaneous Light Box — a bottle filled with sulphuric acid into which splints treated with chemicals were dipped.

The first matches resembling those used today were made in 1827 by John Walker, an English pharmacist who borrowed the formula from a military rocket-maker called Congreve. Costing a shilling a box, Congreves were splints coated with sulphur and tipped with potassium chlorate. To light them, the user drew them quickly through folded glass paper.

Walker never patented his invention, and three years later it was copied by a Samuel Jones, who marketed his product as Lucifers. About the same time, a French chemistry student called Charles Sauria produced the first “strike-anywhere” match by substituting white phosphorus for the potassium chlorate in the Walker formula. However, since white phosphorus is a deadly poison, from 1845 match-makers exposed to its fumes succumbed to necrosis, a disease that eats away jaw-bones. It wasn’t until 1906 that the substance was eventually banned.

That was 62 years after a Swedish chemist called Pasch had discovered non-toxic red or amorphous phosphorus, a development exploited commercially by Pasch’s compatriot J E Lundstrom in 1885. Lundstrom’s safety matches were safe because the red phosphorus was non-toxic; it was painted on to the striking surface instead of the match tip, which contained potassium chlorate with a relatively high ignition temperature of 182 degrees centigrade.

America lagged behind Europe in match technology and safety standards. It wasn’t until 1900 that the Diamond Match Company bought a French patent for safety matches — but the formula did not work properly in the different climatic conditions prevailing in America and it was another 11 years before scientists finally adapted the French patent for the US.

The Americans, however, can claim several “firsts” in match technology and marketing. In 1892 the Diamond Match Company pioneered book matches. The innovation didn’t catch on until after 1896, when a brewery had the novel idea of advertising its product in match books. Today book matches are the most widely used type in the US, with 90 percent handed out free by hotels, restaurants and others.

Other American innovations include an anti-after-glow solution to prevent the match from smoldering after it has been blown out; and the waterproof match, which lights after eight hours in water.

Questions 1-8
Complete the summary below. Choose your answers from the box at the bottom of the page and write them in boxes 1-8 on your answer sheet.

NB There are more words than spaces so you will not use them all. You may use any of the words more than once.


Primitive Societies  saw fire as a ….….(Example)…..… gift.      Answer:  heavenly.

They tried to ...... (1) ...... burning logs or charcoal ...... (2) ...... that they could create fire themselves. It is suspected that the first man-made flames were produced by ...... (3) ......

The very first fire-lighting methods involved the creation of ...... (4) ...... by, for example, rapidly ...... (5) ...... a wooden stick in a round hole. The use of ...... (6) ...... or persistent chipping was also widespread in Europe and among other peoples such as the Chinese and ...... (7) ........ European practice of this method continued until the 1850s ....... (8) ....... the discovery of phosphorus some years earlier.

                         List of Words

Mexicans     random      rotating

despite        preserve    realising

sunlight       lacking       heavenly

percussion  Chance      friction

unaware      without       make

heating        Eskimos     surprised

until             smoke

Questions 9-15
Look at the following notes that have been made about the matches described in Reading Passage. Decide which type of match (A-H) corresponds with each description and write your answers in boxes 9-15 on your answer sheet.

NB There are more matches than descriptions so you will not use them all. You may use any match more than once.

          Example                                                                           Answer

could be lit after soaking in water                                                   H

9.  made using a less poisonous type of phosphorus
10.  identical to a previous type of match
11.  caused a deadly illness
12.  first to look like modern matches
13.  first matches used for advertising
14.  relied on an airtight glass container
15.  made with the help of an army design

Types of Matches

A   the Ethereal Match
B   the Instantaneous Light box
C   Congreves
D   Lucifers
E   the first strike-anywhere match
F   Lundstrom’s safety match
G  book matches
H  waterproof matches

Click the button to Show/ Hide Answers

1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 Rating 2.83 (45 Votes)

10. A
Hi, I need your help. Please, the answers are for real on this page?
Mine is 12 out of 15; time 23 minutes.
Hi, guys, I need help with the word "leap" in the title... Could you please explain me the exact meaning of it?
Send me the explanation of questions 1 to 8.
Cut or break from the surface of the hard material.
Amit Kumar
How no. 1 -8 answers are different? These are already given but it's wrong. Could you please explain it?
Can you please send me to my email?
I want to know the answer to question no. 8. Can you explain please?
Tell the meaning of chipping in the text? Please.
Why #3 is not friction?
Van Le
'By chance' is a synonym of random and random can't go after by.
Van Le
It is a synonym.
In this sentence treated means subjected to or added with. So the meaning will be like chemically prepared splints were dipped into a bottle full of sulfuric acid.
Why #2 is "unaware", it is not given.
Could anyone please explain to me why the answer to question no. 3 can not be - 'random'?
Great post. Nice tips on how to prepare for your exams in college. One has to find out what ways work for him/her.
Rahgozar E
Hi, guys. I need help with this sentence too. What does "treated" mean in, "a bottle filled with sulfuric acid into which splints treated with chemicals were dipped".
Rahgozar E
Thank you, Stuart.
The word percussion means 'the striking of one solid object with or against another one with some degree of force.' So when percussion is used to make fire, like the ancient people did, is known as ' percussion methods of fire lighting.'
Rahgozar E
Hi there, I don't understand the meaning of "percussion methods of fire lighting" I will appreciate if you help me.
Omais Chauhan
Gracie said :
Why the answer to the question 11 is 'E'? Strike-anywhere matches based on the passage used potassium something instead of lethal white phosphorus.
Its because phosphorus causes deadly illness as they wrote in the passage that was the cause of jaw bones problem and its got banned in 1906.

Why the answer to the question 11 is 'E'? Strike-anywhere matches based on the passage used potassium something instead of lethal white phosphorus.
Why no. 8 (despite)?
I like the helpful information you provided in your IELTS Website. My IELTS preparation would be greatly benefited from this IELTS Mentor Website. The 'sample question and answer part' is awesome.