(Or, why human evolution should not be taught in school)
Jessica Hamzelou tells us, “Fire did not spark human colonisation of cold Europe” (New Scientist, 14 March 2011):
To try to pin down the earliest evidence of controlled fire use, Paola Villa at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and Wil Roebroeks at Leiden University in the Netherlands re-examined the data from over 100 European sites. They were looking for evidence of fires that were unlikely to have occurred naturally – those in caves, for example – and for clues that fire had been used in a controlled way. These include activities such as making pitch: some early hominins made this sticky substance by burning birch bark and using it to glue pieces of flint to wooden handles to make stone tools easier to use.The earliest European hearths date back between 300 and 400,000 years, the researchers conclude – much later than existing theories suggest. Some archaeologists think that controlled fire use dates back 1.6 million years. Richard Wrangham of Harvard University has even suggested that hominins began using fire 1.9 million years ago, leading to a cooking tradition that made digestion easier and freed up the extra energy our ancestors needed to grow bigger brains.
[ … ]
“The European evidence strongly suggests that the habitual and controlled use of fire was a late phenomenon,” Villa and Roebroeks conclude.
The findings controversially suggest that people migrated from Africa to the below-freezing winter temperatures of Europe without fire. These early hominins might have combined a high-protein diet with a highly active lifestyle to survive, the researchers speculate.
And here we were just told that cooking was key to human evolution.
This entertaining paper war demonstrates one of the problems of teaching of human evolution in school: Like origin of life, the discipline is in no fit state to be taught in school.
That has nothing to do with any claimed war between science and religion. It is a matter of good teaching practice to avoid areas where controversy rages among the learned, except for addressing the questions of gifted students in an open-minded way (always allowed in good systems).