You are hereby cordially invited to attend the second public STIAS lecture of 2011. This presents an opportunity to all SU researchers and students, as well as members of the public, to learn more about the work of STIAS fellows.

On this occasion Prof Richard Wrangham, Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University and Donald Gordon STIAS fellow will present a talk with the title:

Catching Fire: How Cooking made us Human

Date: Wednesday 9 March 2011
Time: 13:00
Place: Con de Villiers lecture hall, JC Smuts building, Stellenbosch University

Take the foot bridge over Merriman street from the Neelsie.

We look forward to welcoming you at this event – not to be missed!

For more information, contact Felicia McDonald 021 808 2581 or


Although Darwin considered the control of fire “probably the greatest [discovery], excepting language, ever made by man,” he implied that the use of fire was a purely cultural achievement and he did not explain what made it important. Subsequent interest in the significance of fire for humans has continued to treat it purely as a cultural artefact. I propose that humans are biologically adapted to the control of fire because it enables the cooking of food, which leads to large amounts of energy. Compromised physiological performance among individuals on raw diets supports the hypothesis. Mechanisms contributing to net energy gain from cooked foods include increased digestibility of starch and protein, and reduced costs of digestion eating cooked versus raw meat. Humans differ from other great apes by having reduced digestive systems, modified as a consequence of the availability of processed food. Contemporary evidence indicates that humans are not adapted to raw diets, while fossil evidence suggests that humans have been cooking since Homo erectus. Whatever the timing of the initial control of fire, the evidence that its effects have been incorporated into our biology suggest that it has had pervasive impacts not merely on anatomy and physiology, but also on social relations and cognition.

Professor Richard Wrangham

Richard Wrangham is the Ruth Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University where he has worked since 1989. His major interests are the chimpanzee behavioral ecology, the evolution of violence, the influence of cooking on human evolution, and the conservation of chimpanzees and other apes. He has studied chimpanzees in Uganda since 1987 as director of the Kibale Chimpanzee Project (now co-Director with Martin Muller). He is a fellow of the American Academcy of Arts and Sciences and a MacArthur Fellow. His most recent book is Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human (Basic Books, June 2009).

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