Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The animal that cooks its food, continued

Two and a half years ago I posted an item about Richard Wrangham's book Catching Fire,  which I had read in summary in my alumni/ae magazine.   Since then I read the book, and then asked some anthropologist friends what they thought of it.  Not accepted science, were the responses.  Hypothesis, not theory.   The early use of fire and the selection pressure on human evolution exerted by cooking our food and related behaviors - over the last 100,000 years or more - is questioned by most.

But within the last week both PRI's The World
and the BBC website
have carried stories on an article just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.   Evidence indicates the human (Genus Homo) use of fire, deep in cave (so not an accidental blow in of embers), including charred animal bones among the ashes, a million years ago. The cave is in the Northern Cape province of South Africa, and an international group of archaeologists did the work.  

While these findings push the use of fire back about 300,000 years, and make Wrangham's hypothesis a bit more likely to be verified, they really don't prove it.   Too bad -  I really do want to think that cooking our food has been a major influence on who we are as a species, biologically and not just culturally.  

Well - they thought the continental drifters were crack pots at first, too.

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