An Approach to The Anthropocene;
Homo erectus, Fire, Cooking, Ochre, Story-telling and Seafaring:
Technologies of Collaboration, Connection, and Movement in Early Processes of Hominim Self-Domestication. 

By David Turnbull
Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL), Faculty of Architecture, University of Melbourne.


The paper outlines the ways in which hominims became the great colonisers and survivors in every available territory on the planet - how they transformed themselves and their environment in the process of developing the use of fire, ochre, string, stories, seafaring, kinship and exchange. A story that could be called ‘The human species made themselves and their environment: the birth of the Anthropocene’.
My candidate for the start of the Anthropocene is the controlled and habitual use of fire - the origin of the hearth, the camp fire, and self-domestication around 1.5-2 million years ago. The reasons for picking on fire as the human invention that marked the onset of the Anthropocene are that it is arguably a co-productive technology that radically altered both human physiology and social life as well as the environment. Fire-cooked food requires far less digestive processing, fire thus allowed the development of a radically shortened human gut relative to primates, thereby freeing energy for the development of a larger brain.The development of habitual use of hearths and camp-fires also transformed identity and community, spatiality and temporality. Fires enabled the development of ‘technologies of connection and cooperation’- language and stories. Having a camp-fire altered circadian rhythms and radically extended the day ‘creating effective time for social activities that did not conflict with productive time for subsistence activities’. Fires fundamentally changed the way people moved, interacted, cooperated, they were central to the development of community and the so-called recursive “theory of mind”, the recognition that other people have minds, thoughts just like our own that enabled the formation of group identity and the story telling that preceded language - a prerequisite for traveling, seafaring and knowledge transmission.

David Turnbull is a Senior Research Fellow at the Victoria Eco-Innovation Laboratory at the University of Melbourne and a distinguished researcher in STS where he has written widely on cartography, indigenous and scientific knowledge systems, and on the role of material artefacts in prehistorical change. He is the author of numerous publications including Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers: Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge.

Organized by the CAS research project Artic Domestication in the era of the Anthropocene.

The seminar is open for everyone.