NPR

What Are Our Best Clues To The Evolution Of Fire-Making?

Fresh thinking about primates' attention to fire points to a gradual evolution of fire-making skills, says anthropologist Barbara J. King.
Source: Getty Images

Remember the movie Quest For Fire?

It's an iconic Hollywood moment: Ancient humans discover how to make fire. It happens pretty quickly, and there's a chase scene — starring a saber-toothed tiger — to heighten the suspense.

Off the big screen, though, evolutionary changes, including cognitive-behavioral changes that would underpin our species' control of fire, often happen in fits and starts over lengthy periods.

In papers just published in a supplement to the journal Current Anthropology devoted to human evolution and fire, we see just how lengthy that process may have been.

In his contribution, "Identifying and describing pattern and process in the evolution of hominin use of fire," Dennis Sandgathe of Simon Fraser University notes that it's quite challenging to distinguish between the archaeological signature of fire use by

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