Funding: Swedish Research Council #1

By 21 - Published 22 November 2019

Ivo Jacobs received funding from the Swedish Research Council for the project: Pyrocognition: the evolution of understanding fire and cooking.
The funding runs over four years with a total sum of 5 200 000 SEK.

Project Abstract:

Pyrocognition: the evolution of understanding fire and cooking The ability to use and control fire is essential to what makes us human. Cooking in particular has given ancestral humans an unparalleled advantage; by improving energy efficiency, it fuelled the evolution of increasing brain size, which would have been impossible on a raw diet. Thus, human evolution only makes sense in the light of our change in diet as provided by cooking. However, little is known about how ancestral humans came to control fire or what they understood about it, because their behaviour cannot be studied directly. This project will deliver the first-ever scientific study of fire-related cognition in animals. It involves great apes, because they are our closest living relatives, and corvids (crow birds), because they have similar cognitive abilities that evolved independently. They are tested in six experiments designed to simulate how hominins likely came to interact with fire. What do animals understand about fire? Does it have a calming effect on them? Do they learn how heat transforms food and use it to improve food? Can they plan for future cooking? Although this has been a topic of much speculation and debate, there has been little to no empirical research into how other animals interact with fire. This project will contribute to reconstructing the cognitive and evolutionary origins of fire use. It will therefore reduce the gap in our knowledge of one of the most critical transitions in human evolutionary history.