Control of Fire in the Paleolithic: evaluating the cooking hypothesis.

Richard Wrangham reviews how the control of fire has affected the evolution of human biology and behaviour.

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Fire and its control is significant to the evolution of humans. Richard Wrangham is a Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University in the United States, who bases his studies about human evolution on the ecology of ape behaviour. In this review, he presents evidence to support The Cooking Theory (a hypothesis that cooking food was integral to the physiological development of human beings) but Wrangham also refers to research that questions its relevance to human evolution. What is most extraordinary is the time humans saved by cooking food with fire resulted in the surplus energy being redirected toward Homo erectus’ brain, which grew in size. Even our digestion system and the structure of our jaws and teeth appear to have adapted to the cooked food diet. However, the more intriguing question is, when did our ancestors learn about the benefits of controlling fire, for example, as a source of heat, protection against harm, a method to hunt for prey and importantly, how to cook food with fire? Fire has been part of human existence for a very long time and without it, the consequences for our evolutionary survival might have been quite a different story. 

Find out why in this interesting article, freely available via the journal, Current Anthropology here.   

Gabrielle Ahern

Managing Editor, npj Science of Learning Community

I am based in Queensland, Australia, and have an interesting portfolio of skills, experience and qualifications in science research and content creation.