WINGS Fellow Polly Wiessner on how Firelight Influenced Human Development

WINGS Fellow Polly Wiessner, an anthropology professor at the University of Utah has recently published a study that discusses the role of firelight in human evolution.  By observing Africa’s Kalahari Bushmen, her studies show that firelight has helped humans by reincforcing social traditions and encouraging the development of the imaginiation.  Published in the Scientific Journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” Wiessner’s work states that the extension of the day made possible by fire, allowed for a completely different set of human interactions and conversations versus the daytime ones.  She states that in her study among the !Kung tribesmen in northeast Namibia and northeast Botswana shows how firelight allowed humans to make connections to those in a broader network both with other humans in other areas outside their tribe and through “information transmitted through imaginary thought” by telling folklore.  Her reasoning for studying amongst these tribesman was that “for 99% of our evolution this is how our ancestors lived,” allowing for fireside conversations to be “the original social media,”  allowing for people to connect to their broader networks. 


Article Links

The Invention Of Fire May Explain The Preference For Evening …  – Business Insider

Campfire Stories May Have Made Society What It Is Today – Global Headlines

Human evolution – The Economist

Ancient campfires led to the rise of storytelling – Science Now

Did Fireside Tales Aid Social and Cultural Evolution? – Archaeology 

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