Scientists suspect that without a control over fire, humans probably would never have developed large brains and the benefits that come along with it. But when did humans first discover how to use fire?
“That’s a tricky question,” said Ian Tattersall, a paleoanthropologist and curator emeritus of human origins at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
Around 2 million years ago, the gut of the human ancestor Homo erectus began shrinking, suggesting that something such as cooking was making digestion a lot easier. Meanwhile, its brain was growing, which requires a lot of energy. “Where else would you get the energy from without using fire to cook food?” Tattersall told Live Science, referring to cooking meat and vegetables..
Whenever fire use did arise, humans’ ability to capture and control wildfires — or create fires of their own — had massive impacts on the species’ evolution. It probably lengthened life spans, made humans more social by giving them a place to gather around and, along with the invention of clothing, helped them move into colder climates, Tattersall said. Using fires also likely increased human cognition, Hlubik added. “The benefits from using it reinforce the cognitive gains that you’ve already gotten and then create more. Because fire is a complex thing,” she said. “You can get very hurt if you’re using it incorrectly.”