Fish was cooked in the lands of Israel 780 thousand years ago

(ORDO NEWS) — Israeli scientists told about the earliest example of cooking on fire. This was done by the ancient people who lived on the banks of the Jordan River.

Scientists believe that cooking on fire has become one of the key elements in the evolution of the genus Homo, which influenced the physical development of our ancestors, and even the formation of social bonds between them.

But there has not yet been a consensus on when ancient people switched from a raw food diet to food cooked on fire.

There is some evidence to suggest that Homo erectus practiced the controlled use of fire as early as about 1.7 million years ago. But there is no evidence that they cooked food, and not just warmed themselves around the fire.

The finds, which are quite convincing evidence of cooking on fire, have so far concerned early Homo sapiens and Neanderthals. The earliest example is dated 170 thousand years.

Fish was cooked in the lands of Israel 780 thousand years ago 2
Archaeological site of Gesher-Benot Ya’akov

A shortcoming of most studies examining cooking behaviors in early Homos is that they focus on recording circumstantial evidence (charcoal, foci, bone color changes and shrinkage, surface modifications, and so on).

These testimonies speak of the use of fire, but it is not necessary to cook on it. In order to speak with certainty about early cooking, it is necessary to prove that raw food was exposed to controlled heat in a narrow temperature range (up to 500 ° C).

It is very difficult to do this: after hunting large animals, ancient people usually removed the meat from their bones. Whether or not they cooked after that is unclear, because the remains of roasted meat are practically not preserved, and the bones from which the meat was cut are infrequently cooked over a fire.

The archaeological site of Gesher-Benot Yaakov (Galilee, Israel) began to be explored in 1981. Early Paleolithic people were found there mostly representatives of the species Homo erectus, but some anthropologists assumed that Homo ergaster.

Traces of hearths and microliths of flint, limestone and basalt were found at the site. Scientists attributed stone tools to the Acheulean culture. The dating of the site is 780 thousand years. And it is located on the banks of the Jordan River.

In addition to traces of hearths and Acheulian microliths, archaeologists have unearthed a large number of remains of fish and aquatic invertebrates in Gesher-Benot Yaakov more than 40 thousand samples.

But the mere fact of finding fish bones near the outbreaks does not mean that local erectus were preparing gefilte fish. They could eat the catch raw or dried, and throw the bones into the hearth.

To begin with, scientists dismantled the remains of fish and found out that there are not so many bones among them: the main part is pharyngeal teeth.

According to them, the researchers determined that the ancient inhabitants of the lands of Israel did not eat everything: the set of species they were interested in is very small, and preference was clearly given to two large cyprinids ( Cyprinidae ) – Luciobarbus longiceps and Carasobarbus canis.

Fish was cooked in the lands of Israel 780 thousand years ago 3
Luciobarbus longiceps

The authors of the work applied the method of X-ray powder diffraction and found out that the found pharyngeal teeth of these carps were exposed to low temperatures (less than 500 °C).

An experimental comparative analysis showed that if the fish were consumed raw or dried, and then the remains were thrown into the hearth, then the charring of the teeth would be stronger than that observed in the finds.

That is, the fish was cooked on fire and eaten on the spot. This is the earliest evidence of food preparation by hominins.

Researchers note an important detail: fish remains are evenly distributed over all archaeological layers related to the site of ancient people in Gesher-Benot Yaakov. This means that they ate fish there constantly, and not seasonally since a large river flowed nearby.

Water resources were probably an essential component in the diet of early hominins. The proximity of many early and middle Pleistocene archaeological sites (approximately 0.12-2.6 million years ago) to rivers and swamps indicates their important role in the dispersal of Homo.

And it makes sense: aquatic habitats offer diverse and affordable sources of protein aquatic plants, invertebrates, and fish all year round.

Fish is high in omega fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is essential not only for overall health but also for brain development.

The scientists suggest that early Homo ‘s access to aquatic food webs may have had a significant beneficial effect on their cognition and even fertility.


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