Cooking Food, Communal Dinners Made All Of Us Human, Study Claims
If you’re cooking a meal for Thanksgiving or just showing up to feast, you’re part of a long human history — one that’s older than our own species. Some scientists estimate our early human cousins may have been using fire to cook their food almost 2 million years ago, long before Homo sapiens showed up.
Photo Insert: Researchers examined a curious catch of fish remains, especially teeth, from Luciobarbus longiceps carp, said Naama Goren-Inbar, an archaeologist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and excavation leader.
And a recent study found what could be the earliest known evidence of this rudimentary cooking: the leftovers of a roasted carp dinner from 780,000 years ago, Maddie Burakoff reported for the Associated Press (AP).
Cooking food marked more than just a lifestyle change for our ancestors. It helped fuel our evolution, give us bigger brains — and later down the line, would become the centerpiece of the feasting rituals that brought communities together.
“The story of human evolution has appeared to be the story of what we eat,” said Matt Sponheimer, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who has studied the diets of early human ancestors.
The new study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is based on material from Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in Israel — a watery site on the shores of an ancient lake.
Artifacts from the area suggest it was home to a community of Homo erectus, an extinct species of early humans that walked upright, explained lead author Irit Zohar of Tel Aviv University.
Researchers examined a curious catch of fish remains, especially teeth, from Luciobarbus longiceps carp, said Naama Goren-Inbar, an archaeologist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and excavation leader. They were clustered around certain spots at the site at Lake Hula— places where researchers also found signs of fire.
Testing revealed the teeth had been exposed to temperatures that were hot, but not super-hot. This suggests the fish were cooked low and slow, rather than tossed right onto a fire, Zohar explained.
With all of this evidence together, the authors concluded that these human cousins had harnessed fire for cooking more than three-quarters of a million years ago. That’s much earlier than the next oldest evidence for cooking, which showed Stone Age humans ate charred roots in South Africa.
The researchers — like many of their colleagues — believe cooking started long before this, though physical evidence has been hard to come by.“I am sure that in the near future an earlier case will be reported,” study author Israel Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University said in an email.