While today sitting around a campfire, is just seen as good fun, a new study shows that 400,000 to one million years ago, these types of gatherings actually helped human culture evolve. All those years ago, the flames not only let them cook food and fend off predators, but also extended their day. Stories told over the firelight reinforced social traditions, promoted harmony and equality, as well as sparked humans’ imagination to envision a broad sense of community, both with distant people and the spirit world, according to the study. “There is something about fire in the middle of the darkness that bonds, mellows and also excites people. It’s intimate,” anthropology professor Polly Wiessner from the University of Utah said in a statement. “Nighttime around a fire is universally time for bonding, for telling social information, for entertaining, for a lot of shared emotions.”
Data from the Ju/’hoan hunter-gatherers of southern Africa show major differences between day and night talk. Day talk centered on practicalities and sanctioning gossip; firelit activities centered on conversations that evoked the imagination, helped people remember and understand others in their external networks, healed rifts of the day, and conveyed information about cultural institutions that generate regularity of behavior and corresponding trust. Appetites for firelit settings for intimate conversations and for evening stories remain with us today.