noun_Search_345985 Created with Sketch.
0 cart-active Created with Sketch. noun_Search_345985 Created with Sketch.

Podcast: Knowing Beans About Fire

By The Paleo Diet Team
February 27, 2014
Podcast: Knowing Beans About Fire image

Dr. Loren Cordain: I'm Loren Cordain, Founder of the Paleo Movement.

Shelley Schlender: I'm Shelley Schlender, this is the Paleo Diet Podcast for March 2014. Loren Cordain, can we look on your computer.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Sure. I was going to just show you something here that I called up for your benefit. Let me just get this out of the way. What are these guys doing here Shelley?

Shelley Schlender: These look like folks in the equatorial region who are taking sticks and they're rubbing them on wood to make a fire.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Yeah, that's called the fire drill. Not like a fire drill that you had in elementary school but it's a fire drill. It's the most common way in which people manufacture fire. The ability to produce fire is different than the ability to manufacture fire. These guys could make fire from scratch.

Shelley Schlender: But look at what they're doing. They have a stick and they're rubbing the stick between their hands while it's on a little bit of grass stuff.

Dr. Loren Cordain: There is this long stick-like looking object. You can't see it from a photo but what they do is they go down, they start at the top and then they go up and they go down like this.

Shelley Schlender: They're twirling the stick.

Dr. Loren Cordain: They're twirling the stick. A person that is proficient at this can start a fire in about a minute or so. The crucial part of this, this is what took humanity so long to get, is the bottom of the stick. It's twirled. Here, I'll just draw you a little diagram. It's twirled in another flat stick. If we look at this from the downside, here's how it looks.

Shelley Schlender: You're making a little indent to show that there's a little tiny place where the stick gets to stay put.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Right. What happens here is, the stick is twirled in this little indent which they've carved out and then there's a little canal, a little groove, when this stick is twirled in here it forms a charcoal that gets real hot.


That hot charcoal, a tiny little amount, comes out of this little groove. Then right next to it, they've got some tinder and they put that little hot charcoal in there and blow on it and that's how they start fire.

Shelley Schlender: They take the heat from the charcoal and they put it on something that's really flammable like dried grass--

Dr. Loren Cordain: Yeah, or moss.

Shelley Schlender: Or moss.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Yeah. They get that little charcoal to come in here and it just starts to smoke and then they blow on it and then that's how they start the fire. We don't know precisely when fire was controlled in this manner. There's only four ways to make fire. The other way is the percussion technique. Before we had safety matches, that's how all fire was made. You took a piece of flint and you struck it with a piece of iron, that's like a flint lock, that's how they make them. Some hunter gather populations that have pyrite as a form of iron that you can see on the ground. If you take flint and you clunk it with pyrite, you get this percussion mess then you get these flakes and you can make fire that way. That didn't seem to come until later. This seems to be probably the very first way in which it was done. Before they made fire, they gathered it.

Here in Colorado, we have to worry about that because the most common way to gather fire is with lightning strikes. Here in the spring time and late winter we don't see a whole lot of lightning but we see it quite often in the summer.

Shelley Schlender: You think that ancient man would go, "Oh boy, there's some lightning let's go over there and see if there's fire."

Dr. Loren Cordain: But it's like if you live here in Fort Collins and the lightning struck up in the mountains, you'd have to go 14, 15, 20 miles away. For most people, 15 mile walk is about it. The other problem is that you've got to keep this fire going.


That represents a problem and here in Colorado if we get in a driving rainstorm and you've just collected fire from a lightning strike, it can be challenging to keep it going. That's probably how humans first started fire was they collected it. Why do I bring that up?

Shelley Schlender: Are you looking for a good steak today?

Dr. Loren Cordain: Why do I bring that up? It's because until we had the ability to do this, and by the way, this is no easy trick, Shelley, if I were to ask you to do this, I'd be willing to bet a $100 you couldn't do it to save your life the first time you tried it.

Shelley Schlender: How about the second time?

Dr. Loren Cordain: If you had some instruction and you had the right wood, you have to have a softer wood here and a harder wood here. You have to see how these guys do it. You have to be very intent. It's not anything that you can just, it's like, you watch it.

Shelley Schlender: You have to watch it the whole time.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Yeah. You can see it on YouTube. You can see people that can do it. Why do I bring that up? Because the very earliest fire that we see people doing where they may have either gathered fire or maybe made it, we don't know, is in Europe, 200,000 to 300,000 years ago, and we tend to see where Neanderthals and other early hominids lived, we can consistently see fire in the cave areas where we know it probably wasn't accidental through lightning.

That's only 200,000-300,000 years ago. We don't see it all over the rest of the planet. Only in Europe do we see it there. The earliest evidence of fire comes from a cave in South Africa where, maybe it's dated to 1.2 million years, but that seems like it was very rare, maybe it was a gathering of fire and they brought it into a caved area for light or what have you. But whether or not that was done regularly, we don't know, even it was gathered or was with this method--

Shelley Schlender: With the stick and rubbing the stick to cause friction and charcoal.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Right. We're getting a little bit off base but you can imagine that these guys learned it from somebody who learned it from somebody who taught somebody.


But the very first person that did this, they weren't trying to make fire because they didn't know this produced fire. You can sit out here all day long and if you don't know it produces fire, you're not going to do it.

What were they doing the first time with a stick? They were probably trying to drill a hole through a piece of wood. That's probably what they were doing, the very first guys that ever figured this out. Maybe it was a child, who knows? They were furiously doing this.

That goes back to Neanderthals. Did they drill objects? We know that modern humans drill objects. They drill bones. They drill pieces of wood. They make all kinds of things for necklaces and what have you. They're drilling. Modern people were probably drilling. We don't see Neanderthals 200,000-300,000 years ago, with hardly any drill objects. This must have happened as an accident through drilling. If they weren't interested in drilling objects, they didn't make pendants and things like modern people have. Then how are they making their fire?

We don't find pyrite. There's a single piece of pyrite found at a Neanderthal site, in all the Neanderthal sites in Europe.

Shelley Schlender: Dr. Cordain, were Neanderthals making fire for a long time?

Dr. Loren Cordain: It seems like it. It seems that it persisted. Neanderthals got into Europe by about 300,000 years ago, maybe slightly earlier.

Shelley Schlender: They had fire with them when they came?

Dr. Loren Cordain: It looks like by about 250,000 to 200,000, fire seemed fairly common.

Shelley Schlender: If they weren't drillers like modern humans are, as shown in this picture using a stick to drill and cause friction, how did that Neanderthals make fire?

Dr. Loren Cordain: That's the $64,000 question. The other major way of making fire, I told you, is through percussion. You have to strike flint, which Neanderthals had, they had flint. You need to strike iron-bearing ore with flint and it makes sparks.

Shelley Schlender: I can picture a Neanderthal doing that.


Dr. Loren Cordain: Actually not, because it’s the most common surface bearing the iron mineral in Europe, there are huge deposits of iron pyrite throughout Europe where Neanderthals lived. If they were making it, striking flint on pyrite, you would expect to find pyrite all over the place where they live, in their caves. One site, one piece of pyrite. If they're making fire with pyrite on a regular basis, you would expect to see what they'd discarded everywhere

Shelley Schlender: Next, the idea of them whacking stones to make fire.

Dr. Loren Cordain: They are probably weren't making fire with either percussion, pyrite and flint and they probably weren't doing the drilling technique because we don't see any drilled objects. How are they doing it? They were probably collecting it. Can you imagine if you let the fire go out and it was your responsibility to keep that fire going and it just happened to be a very cold winter evening and the fire went out and you couldn't get it going again, you have to wait for months until you get another lightning strike.

Shelley Schlender: Wow. Over the winter, when it was the coldest, do you think that there was a special person whose whole job or maybe a whole team of people whose whole job was to keep the fire going?

Dr. Loren Cordain: I do. There actually was a movie made about that years ago to keep the fire alive and they showed Neanderthals running around.

Shelley Schlender: I remember that movie because there was this scene where the fire goes out and everybody looked so horrified.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Yeah. That's my take on it. I don't know that we'll ever find it because, Shelley, look at this. Once these guys are done with these sticks, what do you think they're going to do? The sticks just, the probability of finding one of these things--

Shelley Schlender: Oh you mean going back 200,000 years to find a 300,000 year old stick.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Yeah, with a hole in it like this. It's just not going to happen. What we should see is drilled objects like you can drill a bone. We should see drilled bone, we don't see drilled bone. We don't see drilled stone.


Shelley Schlender: You see that among modern humans, but you don't see that among Neanderthals. They didn't have drilled stones for ornaments.

Dr. Loren Cordain: We start seeing the drilled objects in Africa about maybe 70,000 or 80,000 years ago where they took shells and they drilled holes in shells and then you can see that they probably made beads out of them.

Shelley Schlender: All of this makes me much more happy about the fact I'm wearing a necklace that has little drilled ornaments on it.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Anyway, Why am I bringing this up? Because you can't eat beans and legumes unless you cook them.

Shelley Schlender: Aha! This does take you back to food.

Dr. Loren Cordain: This does get back to food. There being controversy in the Paleo-sphere, in that a young man was invited to speak on the Dr. Oz show. He promptly got out in front of Dr. Oz and 20 million viewers on TV and he says, "Legumes are part of the Paleo diet and can be eaten in small amounts without any problems." He, obviously, is unaware of this notion of when or where fire was started. He, obviously, probably didn't read the chapter that I wrote in my most recent book.

Shelley Schlender: Which is, "Beans and Legumes, Are they Paleo?" You say, No.

Dr. Loren Cordain: That's right. Beans and legumes are toxic. The beans and legumes that we typically eat are generally toxic unless they're cooked. Snow peas, you can eat them raw. Most people don't have a huge amount of problems with them. But it's a dose-dependent effect. If you were to eat 2 or 3 pounds of Romano beans you would be hurting because they contain these anti-nutrients that ward of predators. They ward off microorganisms like fungus and bacteria and they ward off insects and birds and small animals, mice, rats, and what have you.

Think about a legume, a bean or a pea or a lentil, that is the reproductive material of the plant.


If that material doesn't get into the ground, germinate, and make a new plant, then it's history. The plant isn't making these seeds to feed other animals. It's doing it to reproduce its own kind.

Shelley Schlender: The plant actually makes the seed in hopes to go through your digestive track undigested and land in a good rich pile of fertilizer.

Dr. Loren Cordain: That's one strategy that plants have taken in. The most common one would be, for instance, strawberries. We all like a fresh strawberry particularly in the spring time. Have you ever noticed they’ve got these tiny little seeds in them? We don't worry about eating those, but they go through our GI tract completely intact and, you're right, they come out the other side in a nice pile of fertilizer and removed from that where they started.

Shelley Schlender: The strawberry plant looks at us like, United Van lines.

Dr. Loren Cordain: That's right, that's one strategy. Another strategy are these guys, beans and legumes. They try to make the user very, very sick and not want to eat these things again. Beans and legumes, my god, the number of anti-nutrients are legendary, we can start off with lectins, saponins, protease inhibitors, and the list goes on and on and on.

Shelley Schlender: Now, Loren Cordain, I do know some vegans who are very healthy and seem to do great on beans and lentils and a vegan diet. There are great athletes who are vegans who seem to do great doing this.

Dr. Loren Cordain: I disagree with them and I've written an entire chapter on what's wrong with a vegan/vegetarian diet.

Shelley Schlender: Would you say that some people seem to do fine on it?

Dr. Loren Cordain: It depends on how you define "doing fine". If you do it for the course of decades, you're not going to do fine, no one will. Because you're going to end up with multiple nutrient deficiencies.

Shelley Schlender: I wonder though, if somebody has been eating a long time and they're vegan, whether the microbes in their guts adapt to that and end up helping manufacture some vitamins and nutrients as byproducts for them, helping consume this food.


That for somebody who has adapted that way, it really works.

Dr. Loren Cordain: I would disagree with you. There's a couple of us, we talk as scientists, we talk about statistics and meta-analyses. If this was a very healthy way to eat, and it wards off disease, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and what have you, then we would expect lifelong vegans to live healthier lives, be free of heart disease, free of cancer and we'd all be a happier world. That's not the case. The largest meta-analysis ever done was done on 35,000 vegans in the UK. In contrast it's almost 40,000 with what I call hamburger eaters - people that eat anything. The difference in mortality from all causes combined, it came out a wash. Vegans didn't do any better than the guys--

Shelley Schlender: Eating the bad American or European diet?

Dr. Loren Cordain: Even McDonald's and fries and what have you.

Shelley Schlender: Milkshakes.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Milkshakes. They (vegans) didn't do any better in breast cancer for women, prostate cancer for men. The incidence of osteoporosis and vitamin D deficiency was higher. They had much higher probability of having iodine deficiencies, much greater probability of having elevation in a compound called homocysteine in their blood which is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Homocysteine comes from low levels of Vitamin B12, Folic acid, and B6.

Most vegan/vegetarians eat fruits and veggies and they should do okay on the folate, but they're not going to do very well on B12.


They will - almost virtually to the person - be Vitamin B12 deficient and they're going to almost generally be B6 deficient, because the type of B6 - there's three different types of paradoxin and then are found in foods and plants save the one that is least biologically assimilable.

Shelley Schlender: You have health reasons that you say be cautious about eating beans, and you also have a strong sense of righteousness about the fact that if someone goes on Dr. Oz and they say they are eating a Paleo diet. There's no way on Earth that they should say that they are eating beans.

Dr. Loren Cordain: If we define what the Paleolithic era is, the Paleolithic era began with the very first stone tools about, that's been pushed back to about 3.2 million years now. It lasted up until 10,000 years ago when the very first human settled down and started to domesticate plants and animals. The very first plant foods that were domesticated were what are called pulses. Pulses are beans and lentils and whole grains.

Shelley Schlender: But from your standpoint, 10,000 years is not very long for our genome to catch up with eating that way.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Exactly, our GI tract - at least the basic GI track functions and the hormones and the enzymes are virtually unchanged in 10,000 years. A few things that have changed in our immune system, our HLA system has changed - Human Lucasite Anogen system - has changed fairly significantly since we left Africa 60,000 years and colonized the planet. But for the most part, we are omnivores and always have been omnivores.

Shelley Schlender: For the most part, Dr. Oz, with all due respect, has people on his program who say a lot of different things.


Dr. Loren Cordain: You know, the currency of science are these randomized controlled trials, large epidemiologic studies, animal studies and what have you. That's what I've done for my 32 year career at Colorado State is use the tools, the mechanisms of science to try to make sense out of all of this. I suspect, Dr. Oz is a cardiologist and he's a bright guy and I'm not putting him down by any means but, he doesn't live in an ivory tower that most professors do. We have the luxury of reading scientific papers all day long. That's what we do, that’s what we do for a living.

We try to make sense of it. We try to run experiments that help us to show how diet and health can affect people.

Shelley, I never wrote any popular books. I spent 25 years in academia writing scientific papers. My wife convinced me maybe I should get this information out to the public. That's how I did it. We got these books and, that's how you get yourself on Dr. Oz, not for necessarily being a top-notch scientist publishing in high-impact factor journals. You get out because of your notoriety. I think, Paleo has become absolutely enormous. That's how we actually introduced this little talk. He said that Paleo was the number 1 searched diet on Google for all diets in 2013. I'm proud that I was somewhere in the middle of that, beginning of all that.

Shelley Schlender: At the same, you want to keep the clarity of what Paleo means. Because there was no fire, in much of Paleo time, Paleo does not mean beans.

Dr. Loren Cordain: Paleo does not mean beans or legumes. It's like I've always said, nobody can, in the 21st century, nobody can eat as a pure hunter-gather, what we can do is we can mimic the nutritional characteristics of their diets by mimicking the food groups they ate. They ate fresh fruits and vegetables. They ate a lot of animal products – fish, seafood, eggs.


Virtually, any plant or animal food that can be forged or hunted or gathered in their environment. They rarely, if ever, ate cereal grains, which were considered starvation foods. Similarly, legumes required so much processing that they were rarely consumed as well. They didn't drink dairy products, because you can't milk wild animals. They didn't have a processed foods, because they really didn't manufacture the ingredients of foods that become processed foods.

Shelley Schlender: I think I'll go home and make for my husband a fish on a fire.

Dr. Loren Cordain: There you go.

Shelley Schlender: That's Paleo.

Dr. Loren Cordain: I challenge you to get yourself a fire stick and see if you can start the fire yourself. Give me a call back and you can let our listeners know if it works or not.

That's all for this edition of the Paleo Diet Podcast. Visit my website,, past episodes and for hot links to the experts and studies that we talk about today.

Shelley Schlender: Our theme music is by chapman sticks soloist, Bob Culbertson.

Dr. Loren Cordain: If you want to send me questions or comments, the place to go is

Shelley Schlender: For the Paleo diet podcast, I'm Shelley Schlender.

Dr. Loren Cordain: I'm Loren Cordain.


Even More Articles For You

What to Eat This Week: July, Week 2
This week’s meal plan features a light and airy cucumber salad, digestion-friendly asparagus soup, and breakfast for dinner. 
By Aimee McNew
What to Eat This Week: August, Week 5
Kale. Asparagus. Spinach. Cabbage. It’s a vitamin-K-rich week here!
By Aimee McNew
Healthy Paleo Foods that Satisfy Cravings
Is the only way to curb cravings to just give in and eat that bag of potato chips? Nope! See why you get cravings and how to fight them with The Paleo Diet!
By Megan Patiry
Paleo Leadership
Trevor Connor
Trevor Connor

Dr. Loren Cordain’s final graduate student, Trevor Connor, M.S., brings more than a decade of nutrition and physiology expertise to spearhead the new Paleo Diet team.

Mark J Smith
Dr. Mark J. Smith

One of the original members of the Paleo movement, Mark J. Smith, Ph.D., has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the benefits of Paleo nutrition.

Nell Stephenson
Nell Stephenson

Ironman athlete, mom, author, and nutrition blogger Nell Stephenson has been an influential member of the Paleo movement for over a decade.

Loren Cordain
Dr. Loren Cordain

As a professor at Colorado State University, Dr. Loren Cordain developed The Paleo Diet® through decades of research and collaboration with fellow scientists around the world.