Since the beginnings of human civilization, the idea of a household, with its focus around a fire, is a fundamental unit of human social interaction and organization, according to Professor of Anthropology James Boone.

Maxwell Museum of Anthropology hosted the lecture titled “A Natural History of Houses” as a part of their Ancestors Lecture series Thursday evening before a full auditorium in Hibben Hall.

The first lecture of this series was given in 1990, the year the Maxwell Museum’s ancestors exhibition opened, by Scientific Curator Erik Trinkhaus. Since 2000, an Ancestors Lecture has been given every year.



Boone delivered this year’s addition to the series and discussed this history of houses and self-domestication as it relates to humans and other species. Most of Boone’s lecture centered around the work of Claude Levi-Strauss, a French social anthropologist and a leading figure for structural anthropology. 

Boone said the idea of being self-domesticating animals is something unique to humankind.  

“The most interesting thing about domestication is human self-domestication — that we domesticated ourselves to be able to get along and cooperate with other people in our household and in our community,” Boone said. “It seems to come down to a kind of self-domestication that's very similar to the domestication process with animals particularly animals that we can really connect with like dogs.”

According to Boone the formation of human households requires domestication. This can also be seen in other animals that build homes and have complex societies like fire ants. 

Boone uses the idea of niche construction to describe a distinct function of social behavior. An example of this is the way beavers build dams to live in, or how spiders build webs to catch their prey.

“Domestication is sort of a central process in the formation of human households and actually the other households of other animals that form these kinds of houses like bees and beavers.”

As for Boone, he said the most interesting room in a house is the living room. 

“I always liked the living room,” Boone said. “I always do all my work in the living room. It's a big room and you can kind of look around and see what's going on around the house. I have two kids so I do my work while I’m watching them.”

According to Boone’s lecture, the house has a deep history dating back to the paleolithic age about 300,000 years ago when humans first gathered together in small groups around fire.

Fire acted as a hearth or focus of a family unit. Gathering around a fire could protect humans from predators, ensure they had cooked meat, provide warmth and light, as well as lead to fire based technology like torches and arrows.

Boone has been a professor at the University of New Mexico since 1987. His interests are in the evolution of complex societies and evolutionary ecology with a focus on the energetics of conspicuous consumption.

The Maxwell Museum will host an ethnology lecture February 20, titled “Objects of Attraction: Understanding Material Goods in Indegenious Amazonian Cosmologies.”

Amanda Britt is the Photo Editor of the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at photo@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @amandabritt__