Follow for more talkers

History

Scientists find prehistoric BBQ that’s oldest evidence of controlled use of fire to cook

Published

on
An illustration of hominins exploiting and cooking Luciobarbus longiceps (large barb, Cyprinidae) on the shores of paleo Lake Hula (illustration by Ella Maru) . (Ella Maru/Tel Aviv University via SWNS)

By Dean Murray via SWNS

Researchers have found a prehistoric BBQ they say is the oldest evidence of controlled use of fire to cook food.

The remains of a huge carp fish mark the earliest signs of cooking by prehistoric human to 780,000 years ago.

This predates the available data by some 600,000 years.

The finding points to a major evolution in species development: fish were no longer a seasonal resource but were able to be caught and eaten all year round.

Thus, fish provided a constant source of nutrition that reduced the need for seasonal migration.

Utilizing cooking freed humans from the daily, intensive work of searching for and digesting raw food, providing free time to develop new social and behavioral systems.

The less intensive chewing needed also led to changes in the structure of the human jaw and skull.

A team of leading Israeli universities closely analyzed the remains of the two-meter carp-like fish found at Israel's Gesher Benot Ya’aqov (GBY) archaeological site.

In the study, the researchers focused on pharyngeal teeth belonging to fish from the carp family. These were used to grind up hard food such as shells, and were found in large quantities at different archaeological strata at the site.

An example of a skull of modern carp. (Tel Aviv University via SWNS)

By studying the structure of the crystals that form the teeth enamel , whose size increases through exposure to heat, the researchers were able to prove that the fish caught at the ancient Hula Lake, adjacent to the site, were exposed to temperatures suitable for cooking, and were not simply burned by a spontaneous fire.

Until now, evidence of the use of fire for cooking had been limited to sites that came into use much later than the GBY site - by some 600,000 years, and ones most are associated with the emergence of our own species, homo sapiens.

Dr. Irit Zohar, a researcher at TAU’s Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, and Dr. Marion Prevost at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), stated: “This study demonstrates the huge importance of fish in the life of prehistoric humans, for their diet and economic stability.

"The large quantity of fish remains found at the site proves their frequent consumption by early humans, who developed special cooking techniques.

"These new findings demonstrate not only the importance of freshwater habitats and the fish they contained for the sustenance of prehistoric man, but also illustrate prehistoric humans’ ability to control fire in order to cook food, and their understanding the benefits of cooking fish before eating it.

(Left to Right):The Israeli research team) Dr. Irit Zohar, Dr. Marion Prévost, Prof. Naama Goren, Dr. Guy Sisma-Ventura, Prof. Nira Alperson-Afil, Prof. Israel Hershkovitz . (Tel Aviv University via SWNS)

"Further, by studying the fish remains found at Gesher Benot Ya’aqob we were able to reconstruct, for the first time, the fish population of the ancient Hula Lake and to show that the lake held fish species that became extinct over time. These species included giant barbs (carp like fish) that reached up to two meters in length."

Cooking is defined as the ability to process food by controlling the temperature at which it is heated and includes a wide range of methods. Until now, the earliest evidence of cooking dates to approximately 170,000 years ago.

The question of when early man began using fire to cook food has been the subject of much scientific discussion for over a century.

Proffesor Israel Hershkovitz, at TAU’s Faculty of Medicine, and Zohar note that the transition from eating raw food to eating cooked food had dramatic implications for human development and behavior.

A study report on their findings said: "Eating cooked food reduces the bodily energy required to break down and digest food, allowing other physical systems to develop. It also leads to changes in the structure of the human jaw and skull.

An illustration of hominins exploiting and cooking Luciobarbus longiceps (large barb, Cyprinidae) on the shores of paleo Lake Hula (illustration by Ella Maru) . (Ella Maru/Tel Aviv University via SWNS)

"This change freed humans from the daily, intensive work of searching for and digesting raw food, providing them free time in which to develop new social and behavioral systems.

"Some scientists view eating fish as a milestone in the quantum leap in human cognitive evolution, providing a central catalyst for the development of the human brain. They claim that eating fish is what made us human.

"Even today, it is widely known that the contents of fish flesh, such as omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, iodine and more, contribute greatly to brain development."

These findings shed new light on the matter and was published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The remarkable scientific discovery has been made by researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), Tel Aviv University (TAU), and Bar-Ilan University (BIU), in collaboration with the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History, Oranim Academic College, the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research (IOLR) institution, the Natural History Museum in London, and the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz.

Stories and infographics by ‘Talker Research’ are available to download & ready to use. Stories and videos by ‘Talker News’ are managed by SWNS. To license content for editorial or commercial use and to see the full scope of SWNS content, please email licensing@swns.com or submit an inquiry via our contact form.

Top Talkers