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Feedback – First Fire

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 2, 2011

We recently talked about the lack of evidence for the ‘early’ adoption of man-made fire. One listener, thanks for listening Kate, pointed out that finding archaeological evidence is only one path…she pointed out that the evolution of the human digestive track may point to an early adoption of cooking and thus the necessity to control fire.

I could not find direct research into the evolution of the digestive system but some, notably Richard Wrangham, stated that the evolution of the human brain implies early fire control. This argument is based upon the idea that ‘wild primates’ have a diet insufficient to, even in theory, consume sufficient calories to support the evolution of the human brain; that the best way to explain the source of the necessary calories is cooking.

IF we accept this first argument, it follows that cooked food requires less digestion to get more energy; this allows natural selection to favour those who invest less energy into ‘long’ digestive systems and thus the ‘smallness’ of the human digestive systems relative to our body mass. So, there is the possibility that the evolution of the human gut can provide an alternative path to support early adoption of fire among humans. Unfortunately, there is one flaw to this argument. Even if we accept humans did cook food and the evolutionary changes, it is possible that the ‘stove’ of early human primates were natural in origin…perhaps volcanic hot springs, natural fire or even ‘solar ovens’…although these are less likely than flint and fire; they are still confounding factors…no?

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