One of the key challenges confronting cognitive science is to discover natural categories of cognitive function. Of special interest is the unity or diversity of cognitive control mechanisms. Evolutionary history is an underutilized resource that, together with neuropsychological and neuroscientific evidence, can help to provide a biological ground for the fractionation of cognitive control. Comparative evidence indicates that primate brain evolution has produced dissociable mechanisms for external action control and internal self-regulation, but that most real-world behaviors rely on a combination of these. The archeological record further indicates the timing and context of distinctively human elaborations to these cognitive control functions, including the gradual emergence of increasingly complex hierarchical action control.