Subtitle: Ode to my kitchen sponge, or, an homage to Claude Levi-Strauss
Those in anthropology who love structuralism continuously pursue binary dichotomies, such as the famous “raw vs. cooked” contrast. (I was reminded of this last week when my cat sitter, an anthropologist, apologized making a mistake by mixing “the raw with the cooked.” She had inadvertantly used my dish sponge to clean up after the cats — eek!). This contrast is being taken, quite literally, in some paleoanthropology research, such as the inquiry into the earliest use of fire. Why fire? Because it also relates to the figurative “raw” and “cooked” debate that rages over when our ancestors became cooked/human/cultural instead of raw/nonhuman/natural. Recent work over cooking (figurative and literal) comes from revisiting the question of whether H. erectus had control of fire and cooked food (or whether Neanderthals or modern humans get to claim that innovation). A good overview of the research comes from the Slate. This is a debate that stems from the 2009 book by Richard Wrangham (published, incidentally, the same year that Claude Levi-Strauss passed away — coincidence?). And, of course, while writing this I had someone stop by my office to show me a bone fragment from a nearby coulee. My visitor asked if the marks on the bone were made by people — this, itself is another “raw” vs “cooked” question. (Today’s bone sample is too poorly preserved and water washed to be sure if it is “natural” or “cultural”).