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Fire: The Spark That Ignited Human Evolution [Hardcover]

by Frances D. Burton
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 16, 2009 0826346464 978-0826346469

The association between our ancestors and fire, somewhere around six to four million years ago, had a tremendous impact on human evolution, transforming our earliest human ancestor, a being communicating without speech but with insight, reason, manual dexterity, highly developed social organization, and the capability of experimenting with this new technology. As it first associated with and then began to tame fire, this extraordinary being began to distance itself from its primate relatives, taking a path that would alter its environment, physiology, and self-image.

Based on her extensive research with nonhuman primates, anthropologist Frances Burton details the stages of the conquest of fire and the systems it affected. Her study examines the natural occurrence of fire and describes the effects light has on human physiology. She constructs possible variations of our earliest human ancestor and its way of life, utilizing archaeological and anthropological evidence of the earliest human-controlled fires to explore the profound physical and biological impacts fire had on human evolution.


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Anthropology professor and primate expert Burton combs the evidence for clues to how our ancestors went from observing wild grassland fires to producing and using their own, and how that ability furthered evolutionary development. At the heart of thetext lies a detailed study of light; Burton details the quantity of light produced by various natural sources, from a moonless night to bright sunlight, and discusses how light reception impacts humans. For instance, "Would a campfire have produced the light necessary to have had a physiological effect on our ancestors?" Comparing results from a detailed campfire experiment with research on melatonin and circadian rhythms, Burton concludes that, in fact, "the repercussions throughout hormonal systems and patterns of brain activity over time may be a critical factor in explaining the divergence of our species." Burton further explores bipedalism, diet and social groups, and discusses scientific evidence for the dating of fire's use. With great detail and concise arguments, this well-sourced work will fascinate armchair scientists with an interest in anthropology and evolution.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From the Inside Flap

Fire and light, and their impacts on our earliest human ancestor, are the subjects of this innovative study of the development of the species.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 248 pages
  • Publisher: University of New Mexico Press (April 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0826346464
  • ISBN-13: 978-0826346469
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #408,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a retired professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto, but continue to research and to write. My specialization was in primate social behaviour, and I say, without modesty, that I was the first person to discover that non-human primates [macaques] experience orgasm, and one of the first to identify cognitive processes in the field situation in monkeys. In the recent past I have become particularly interested in epigenetics, and have recently completed an article on that subject as it relates to Anthropology. My book on FIRE: THE SPARK THAT IGNITED HUMAN EVOLUTION took six years to research and publish. It examines the ASSOCIATION with fire by the earliest of bipedal human forebears. That association changed forever the pattern of evolution as LIGHT from fire entered the eye and changed the cascade of hormones that respond to day-light cycles. I am working on developing this further and also on whether China's myth of MONKEY KING intimates evolutionary thinking where biology was not a discipline.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prometheus' legacy December 8, 2009
Format:Hardcover
According to Greek mythology Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to man.

For this service, Zeus punished Prometheus with the dubious gift of foresight.

Just like the Greek myth this excellent work by anthropologist Frances Burton makes the point that the dubious gift of fire was not without its consequences in terms of human evolution and indeed may have been the very force to actually spur the evolutionary forces that made humans acquire their particular qualities. (NOTE: Where this review uses the term "human" it means to include all hominid ancestors as well as contemporary living humans, their descendants.)

Starting at the beginning, Burton goes back six million years to when humans broke off from chimpanzees and bonoboos. She noted that even today chimpanzees and bonoboos do not show a fear of fire when insects are accidentally caught in it. The chimpanzees and bonoboos know that by quickly reaching between the flames they can snag a good treat. In an interesting aside on this very point, Burton favorably compares certain insects with more traditional fare to show how they actually provide more nutrition (a fact admittedly that still does little to inspire me to eat insects but still has interesting evolutionary consequences).

Building from the accidental to the more purposeful Burton posits an evolutionary theory wherein our ancestors came to purposefully capture fire and then to create it. Unlike the popular movie Quest for Fire, this process according to Burton doesn't recess tens of thousands of years into history but rather millions of years into history.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars well worth it July 5, 2009
Format:Hardcover
This is a hard slog. The book is very ambitious. The author is frank in that on some important points, her point of view is just that and it disagrees often enough with Wrangham's new book on this topic. The book is very rich, bringing in the latest research in fields that have (it would seem) just been christened. The thoroughness and the persistence pay off; the book is a real intellectual tour-de-force and a rewarding read.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
Fire is truly the one thing that separates man from beast. "Fire: The Spark That Ignited Human Evolution" traces the history of fire through ancient times to the modern age. If man never gained control of fire, humanity would have never become the technologically advanced species we are today, but may in fact have died out tens of thousands of years ago. Fire is truly a fascinating thing, and author Frances Burton does well in connecting human evolution to fire. "Fire" is the story of fire, and as such, is the story of mankind.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fire... Fired July 6, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book with great interest and enthusiasm and read it completely. I was rather disappointed by its content. The author unintentionally repeats herself all along the chapters of the book, turning the pages boring. It has some clues about the origin of fire and how humans beings used it. Nevertheless the flame of "Fire" is not high. Many other questions or reasons about fire could be better addressed like the changes of teeth, bowels, and even brain volume increased due to the control of fire by our ancestor. Even folk tales, and religious use of fire could be nicely emphasized to enrich it. "Fire" half lighted my fire.

Yvens Barbosa Fernandes
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