Earliest Evidence Cooking Fire

The earliest recorded cooked meal is revealed by clues found at an ancient lake site

Scientists discovered the oldest evidence of cooking at an Israeli archaeological site.

Human evolution was at a crossroads when we ate raw food and cooked food. The discovery suggests that prehistoric humans were capable of deliberately setting fires to cook food as early as 780,000 years ago.

According to Dr. Irit Zhar, a researcher at Tel Aviv University’s Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, the detailed examination of fish teeth found at the Gesher Ya’aqov site on the edge of ancient lake Hula revealed that our early ancestors, most likely Homo, were capable of cooking fish.

According to Zohar, who is also a curator at Oranim Academic College’s Beit Margolin Biological Collections, the lakeside dwellers ate a large freshwater species.

Zohar stated that although no human remains were found at the site the stone tools were similar to those at Homo Erectus sites in Africa. According to Zohar, the lake was shallow and it would have been difficult to catch large fish such as the extinct Luciobarbus shorticep. This fish could have grown up to 6.5 feet (2 meters) by hand.

“This is an extremely important discovery,” Dr. Bethan Linscott (an archaeochemist who was not involved in the study) said.

Linscott is a postdoctoral researcher at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. Linscott said that evidence for controlled fire use in the (early Stone Age),… is not conclusive.

Humans spent less energy searching for fresh food and more time preparing meals. This allowed them to spend more time developing new social and behavioral systems.

“Diet has had a significant impact on the evolution and survival of our species. Linscott stated that it has been suggested, in part, that meat consumption contributed to the growth in brain size in our Homo ancestors’ early Homo. However, uncooked meat can be dangerous because of pathogenic bacteria.

Cooking kills bacteria and increases meat’s energy value, creating a reliable food source for hominins in the early stages of their evolution. This is why it’s so important to understand when and how this happened. It might also help us understand why our hominin ancestors developed the way they did.

On Monday, the research was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Is cooking equal to burning?

Zohar has been researching the site for 16 years. He found that the sediment layers where stone tools were discovered — suggesting human occupation — were also associated with high numbers of fish teeth from two species (Luciobarbus shorticeps, and Carasobarbus Canis), which were both parts of the carp family, but are now extinct.

However, there were very few fish bones. Fish bones, unlike teeth, can easily soften at high temperatures and decay. Nira Alperson-Afil (study coauthor) also identified heart traces — some of the oldest surviving human remains outside of Africa.

The researchers discovered changes in the size and response of tooth enamel crystals to temperature changes, to determine if the prehistoric inhabitants of this site cooked fish there.

Zohar and Dr. Jens Najorka (X-ray lab manager at London’s Natural History Museum) performed experiments on 56 teeth. They were able to determine the effects of cooking at high and low temperatures. The results showed that the fish was cooked at temperatures ranging from 392 to 932 degrees Fahrenheit (200 to 500 degrees Celsius).

“We don’t know how the fish was cooked, but it is clear from the absence of evidence that they were exposed to high temperatures that they weren’t cooked directly in fire or thrown in a fire as waste material or material for burning,” Najorka stated in a news release.

Also, the team was able to establish that fish was an integral part of the diet. They weren’t a treat for special occasions or as an option when other food options are scarce. To determine when the fish died, the researchers looked at the geochemical compositions of carbon and oxygen in the enamel to find out. They were likely to have been cooked and eaten all year.

Migration in the early stages

Homo erectus was the first hominin to migrate from Africa. Research suggests that ancient Lake Hula may have been an important stop on this route.

It is not known when humans started cooking fish or other types of food. There is also no consensus as to when ancient hominins developed the ability for fire-starting and cooking. This study is the first to show that fire was used for cooking. It was done by Neanderthals, Homo sapiens, and others who were able to cook starchy roots in South Africa around 170,000 years ago.

John McNabb, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton’s Centre for the Archaeology of Human Origins, stated that the cumulative weight of the evidence in the study suggests the fish was cooked. He was not part of the study.

He said via email that “when and where the first deliberately set and controlled fire appeared” and that this is one of the big questions researchers have been trying to answer for years.

Fire is more than safety and protection. Fire extends work hours and creates a social bond. Our societies were built around our fires. Cooking offers new dietary options and allows you to access new foods online. It also increases the nutritional potential of what you eat. Cooking was the reason Homo sapiens were able to move into new areas.

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