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The Cognitive Implications of Controlled Fire Use by Early Humans

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 February 2013

Terrence Twomey*
Anthropology Program, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne, Parkville Campus, Melbourne 3052, Australia Email:


This article proposes a framework for investigating the cognitive implications of controlled fire use by Middle Pleistocene humans. By identifying the simplest strategies they could have used to control fire, given the constraints individuals had to overcome, we can establish a behavioural basis for making inferences about cognition. Accessing, maintaining and benefiting from fire involved a range of behaviours that imply future-directed planning, response inhibition and group-level cooperation. I argue that we can infer human cognitive abilities such as an extended working memory, episodic memories, collective intentionality and intersubjective communication from these fire-related behaviours.

Copyright © The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research 2013 

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