November 29, 2023

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Evidence of Cooking

Evidence of Cooking

A recent study found what could be the earliest known evidence of ancient cooking: the leftovers of a fish dinner from 780,000 years ago.

Cooking helped change our ancestors. It helped fuel our evolution and gave us bigger brains. Later, cooking would become central to the eating celebrations that brought communities together.

The new study, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, is based on material from Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in Israel — a watery place near an ancient lake.

Ancient objects from the area suggest it was home to a community of Homo erectus, a kind of early human that walked upright, explained study lead writer Irit Zohar of Tel Aviv University.

Naama Goren-Inbar of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem led the research digs. She said researchers found fish remains, especially teeth. Many of the teeth were from two different kinds of fish known as carp.

The remains were found near places where researchers also found signs of fire. Testing showed 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 being put right onto a fire, Zohar explained.

With all the evidence together, researchers concluded that these ancient human relatives had used fire for cooking some 780,000 years ago. That is much earlier than the next oldest evidence for cooking, about 170,000 years ago, which showed Stone Age humans ate cooked roots in South Africa.