Fish fossils show first cooking may have taken place 600,000 years earlier than thought | Archeology

Early human ancestors living 780,000 years ago liked their fish well cooked, Israeli researchers have revealed, in what they said is the first evidence that fire was used for cooking.

The exact date when our ancestors started cooking has been the subject of controversy among archaeologists because it is difficult to prove that an ancient fireplace was used to prepare food, and not just to keep warm.

But the birth of the culinary art marks an important turning point in the history of mankind because, by facilitating the chewing and digestion of food, it is believed to have greatly contributed to our eventual expansion throughout the world.

Previously, the first “definitive proof” 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 In Monday.

The study, which pushes that date back 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.

During that time, she cataloged thousands of fish remains found at a site called Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in northern Israel.

The site near the banks of the Jordan River once housed a lake, where a treasure trove of ancient fish fossils helped the research team pinpoint exactly when early cooks began to get 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 told AFP.

The first clue came from an area that had “almost no fish bones” but lots of teeth, she said.

This could indicate cooking because fish bones soften and disintegrate at temperatures below 500°C (930°F), but their teeth remain.

In the same area, a colleague of Zohar found burnt flints and other evidence that it had once been used as a fireplace.

And most of the teeth belonged to just two particularly large carp species, suggesting they had been selected for their “juicy” meat, according to the study. Some carp were over two meters (6.5 feet) long.

The “defining” evidence came from studying tooth enamel, Zohar said.

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.

By comparing the results with other fish fossils, they found that the teeth in the key area of ​​the lake were subjected to a temperature between 200 and 500 C (400 and 930 F). This is exactly the ideal range for a well-cooked fish.

Whether our ancestors baked, grilled, poached or sautéed their fish remains unknown, although study has suggested they may have used some kind of earthen oven.

It is believed that fire was first brought under control by Homo erectus around 1.7 million years ago. But “because you can control the fire to keep warm, that doesn’t mean you control it to cook – they could have eaten the fish next to the fire,” Zohar said.

Then human ancestors could have thrown the bones into the fire, said Anaïs Marrast, an archaeozoologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History, who was not involved in the study.

“The whole question of fire exposure is whether it’s getting rid of leftovers or an urge to cook,” she said.

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