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Image Gallery: The Kalahari Bushmen Tell Campfire Stories

Fire circle

Kalahari campfire

(Image credit: Susanna Konner Post)

During the day, the Kalahari Bushmen of Southern Africa and often talk of economic matters, jokes and gossip. But at night, 81 percent of their conversations involve storytelling around a campfire, a pastime that transmits their culture to the younger generation and strengths bonds within their group. Here, women gather around a fire to talk.

Story time

Kalahari story time

(Image credit: Polly Wiessner, University of Utah)

Wearing a Calvin Klein hat and holding a recorder, a !Kung Bushman tells a story around a nighttime fire. Fires like this one allowed human ancestors to stay up late and tell stories that may have helped human thought, social connections and culture evolve.

Trance healers

Kalahari Trance Healing

(Image credit: Richard Katz)

Trance healing, part of the Ju'hoan religion, involves people in bands, or coalitions of bands, working together to heal, protect and mend rifts in a community.

Daytime discussions

Kalahari daytime discussions

(Image credit: Polly Wiessner, University of Utah)

The !Kung Kalahari Bushmen sit at camp. During the day, the !Kung tend to talk about economic matters and gossip, complain and jokes with each another. However, at night their firelight stories stories help reinforce social traditions and spark the imagination, according to research published Sept. 22, 2014, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Hanging out

Kalahari Bushman

(Image credit: Polly Wiessner, University of Utah)

A Kalahari Bushman who is part of the !Kung group. At night, the Bushmen tell stories about people closeby and faraway, as well as people in the spirit world. These stories may help provide a sense of community, the study said.

Translating stories

Kalahari translating stories

(Image credit: Polly Wiessner, University of Utah)

Members of the !Kung Bushmen in Africa’s Kalahari Desert help transcribe and translate an audio recording of a firelight conversation. University of Utah anthropologist Polly Wiessner used the translations to understand how daytime talk differs from nighttime discussions. It's possible that firelight conversations helped human ancestors develop and maintain a culture, she said.

Laura Geggel
As an associate editor for Live Science, Laura Geggel covers general science, including the environment, archaeology and amazing animals. She has written for The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site covering autism research. Laura grew up in Seattle and studied English literature and psychology at Washington University in St. Louis before completing her graduate degree in science writing at NYU. When not writing, you'll find Laura playing Ultimate Frisbee.