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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Dr Jeremy Kendal

Attwell, L., Kovarovic, K. & Kendal, J.R. (2015). Fire in the Plio-Pleistocene: The functions of hominin fire use, and the mechanistic, developmental and evolutionary consequences. Journal of Anthropological Sciences 93: 1-20.

Author(s) from Durham


Fire is a powerful natural force that can change landscapes extremely quickly. Hominins
have harnessed this resource for their own purposes, with mechanistic and developmental physiological
consequences. In addition, the use of fire has niche constructive effects, altering selective environments for
genetic and cultural evolution. We review the record for hominin fire use in the Plio-Pleistocene, before
considering the various functions for its use, and the resultant mechanistic and developmental consequences.
We also adopt the niche construction framework to consider how the use of fire can modify selective
environments, and thus have evolutionary consequences at genetic and cultural levels. The light that fire
produces may influence photoperiodicity and alter hormonally-controlled bodily rhythms. Fire used for
cooking could have extended the range of foods hominins were able to consume, and reduced digestion costs.
This may have contributed to the expansion of the hominin brain and facial anatomy, influenced by a higher
quality cooked diet. Fire may also have allowed dispersal into northern areas with much cooler climates than
the hominin African origin, posing novel problems that affected diet and social behaviours.