In Abraham Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs, warmth is listed as a basic, first-order requirement of human existence. Maslow was an American humanistic psychologist working from the 1930s to the 1960s, and his hierarchy of needs is the contribution to the field for which he is best remembered today.

There are five levels to Maslow’s hierarchy, the theory being that only once the needs of the lower levels have been satisfied may we ascend to the higher. Maslow considered that before we can think about personal growth and fulfilment (level 5), we first need to give attention to self-esteem (level 4). However, before our self-esteem needs may be met, we first have to feel as though we belong and are loved by our family and close significant others (level 3) – needs which in turn depend upon being safe and secure in our environment (level 2) and being biologically and physiologically fulfilled (level 1).

These basic, level 1 needs are the foundational requirements upon which all higher-order human aspirations, individual and collective, are built. And right there amongst them, along with air, food, drink and shelter, is warmth – the basic requirement of our human bodies for heat. Without this requirement being fulfilled, individual human beings could not survive. Similarly, the human race could not have developed to the point it is at today.

Prior to fire…

Human control of fire, reckoned to have become widespread by 50-100,000 years ago, marked a major change for early humans, not only insofar as it enabled them to keep warm but also insofar as it provided a means of cooking food and of warding off predators. But what about before that time? What did some of the earliest human beings do to keep warm – those who hadn’t yet mastered the art of combustion, let alone availed themselves of boilers and radiators?

Not having been around then ourselves, we can obviously only speculate based on evidence. But here are some of the methods those early men and women might have used:

  • Location: The earliest humans inhabited only the warmer parts of the planet. The human population didn’t spread properly elsewhere until the control of fire enabled them to generate heat in cooler climates.

  • Shelter: While listed by Maslow as a separate level 1 need, distinct from warmth, the ability of the human body to maintain heat is evidently often dependent on shelter. As well as protecting people from inclement weather, a shelter such as a cave retains the air warmed by the human bodies within it.

  • Clothing: Evidence suggests that animal fur was one of the earliest materials used by humans for clothing, and clearly it served a function in keeping people warm.

  • Exercise: The exertion of our bodies through physical work or exercise also produces body heat. Were our ancestors setting a trend that will last till today when they foraged for food or hunted animals?

  • Snuggling: To end on an uplifting note, much like ourselves the earliest humans would have been able to cuddle together for warmth, making use of each other’s bodies in a mutually beneficial process of heat exchange.

(Photo byGeoffrey Gallaway)