- Early human ancestors living 780,000 years ago liked their fish well done.
- Israeli researchers have made the revelation.
- Exactly when our ancestors started cooking has been a matter of controversy.
The birth of the culinary arts marks an important turning point in human history because, by making food easier to chew and digest, it is believed to have greatly contributed to our eventual expansion across the world.
Previously, the first “definitive evidence” of cooking was by Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens 170,000 years ago, according to a study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution. The study, which pushes that date back by more than 600,000 years, is the result of 16 years of work by its first author, Irit Zohar, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University’s Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.
The site near the banks of the Jordan River was once home to a lake, where a treasure trove of ancient fish fossils helped the team of researchers investigate exactly when the first cooks started getting inventive in the kitchen. “It was like facing a puzzle, with more and more information until we could make a story about human evolution,” Zohar said.
This could point to cooking because fish bones soften and disintegrate at temperatures under 500 C (930F), but their teeth remain. The researchers used a technique called X-ray powder diffraction at the Natural History Museum in London to find out how heating changes the structure of the crystals that make up enamel.
Did They Like It Grilled?
Comparing the results with other fish fossils, they found that the teeth from the key area of the lake were subjected to a temperature of between 200-500C (400-930F). That is just the right range for well-cooked fish. Whether our forerunners baked, grilled, poached or sautéd their fish remains unknown, though the study suggested they may have used some kind of earth oven.
Fire is thought to have first been mastered by Homo erectus some 1.7 million years ago. But “because you can control fire for warming, that does not mean you control it for cooking – they could have eaten the fish next to the fire”, Zohar said.
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