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Campfire Stories

October 1, 2014

Campfires may have played a big role in bringing early humans together.



A !Kung Bushman, sporting a Calvin Klein hat, tells stories at a firelight gathering in Africa's Kalahari Desert

A !Kung Bushman tells stories at a firelight gathering in Africa’s Kalahari Desert. (Polly Weissner/University of Utah)

Did fire help humans bond? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

[storytelling around fire]

Around a campfire in the Kalahari Desert, a !Kung  woman shares a story about a long journey and strange foreigners. The story’s unique, but the experience of sharing around a campfire is universal and primal. University of Utah anthropologist Polly Wiessner studies how human society may have changed when fire let us extend our days.

POLLY WIESSNER (University of Utah):

You  extend the day by four or five hours and produce time and space that cannot be used for any productive activities.


In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, she compares the conversations Kung people have during the day with those at night, around a fire. She theorizes that fire drew people close and helped catalyze the social bonding that defines us as a species today. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.