What distinguishes man from other animals? This is a pressing issue that some scholars believe boils down to the precise control of one earthly force: fire.
British primatologist Richard W. Wrangham is a staunch proponent of the so-called “cooking hypothesis”. Today, there are no known people who survive without cooking, indicating that this is a powerful and necessary skill.
Wrangham argues that the evolutionary transition from raw to cooked food was a “transformational moment” that fed the bellies of early humans and allowed their brains to grow, eventually leading to the evolution of our species.
A new discovery in Israel seems to make this idea clearer.
An international team of scientists working in the northern sector of the Dead Sea claims to have discovered the first signs of human cooking in prehistoric times.
At an archaeological site called Gesher Benu Yaakov, fish remains show signs of thorough heating 780,000 years ago.
This discovery is not the oldest evidence of the use of fire by ancient people, but it is the oldest evidence in Eurasia. And in Africa, Homo erectus sites dating back at least 1.5 million years contain charcoal and charred bones.
However, these are only indirect signs of burning, and not clear signs of cooking. Evidence for the latter is hard to come by.
Indeed, traces of cooking do not appear in the archaeological record until Neanderthals and Homo sapiens appeared. Until recently, the oldest evidence of cooking was the hot remains of starchy plants found in an underground oven in Africa. This place is only 170,000 years old.
And this is 600,000 years after the first people cooked fish in a valley near the Dead Sea.
“We don’t know exactly how the fish was cooked, but since there is no evidence of exposure to high temperatures, it is clear that it was not cooked directly in the fire and was not thrown into the fire as waste or waste. material,” says archaeologist Jens Nagurka of the Natural History Museum in London, “burn.”
The team’s latest analysis indicates that the teeth of ancient freshwater fish found at the site, which were caught in a nearby lake, are no longer present and have been exposed to temperatures suitable for cooking.
“Fire control results” are pushed back to the Middle Pleistocene, when groups of Homo erectus gave way to large-brained hominins like Homo heidelbergensis.
Archaeologist Naama Goren-Inbar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem explains: “The acquisition of the skills necessary for cooking represents an important evolutionary advance, as it provides additional funds for the optimal use of available food resources. It may even be that cooking was not limited to fish, but also included species of various animals and plants.
The location of Gesher Benu Yaakov is rich in the remains of ancient hominids. Archaeologists have found traces of flint, basalt and limestone tools here, as well as fruits, nuts, seeds and many species of land mammals, both medium and large. The one who lived in this valley obviously knew this land very well. But it was their understanding of freshwater habitats that researchers say allowed these populations to truly thrive.
Perhaps this helped people leave the African continent and live elsewhere.
Scientists have argued for years that eating fish rich in omega fatty acids, zinc and other important nutrients allowed the human brain to develop so much complexity.
Raw fish may have been suitable for the first hominins, but when cooked fish entered the diet of our ancestors, it made digestion easier and saved people from eating dangerous pathogens. It would also give the hominin brain an even bigger boost of nutrients.
“This study provides evidence that early humans cooked fish, confirming the role of wetland habitats in providing a stable year-round food source that played an important role in the survival and spread of hominins in the ancient world,” the researchers conclude. .
Research published in the journal Ecology of nature and evolution.
Source: Science Alert