A new Harvard University study has proven that Homo erectus, an ancestor of ours, was cooking food as far back as 1.9 million years ago. While our ancestors definitely weren’t baking cherry pies, scientists have found that they were heating food much earlier than we previously believed. Past research pinned the invention of cooking and the harnessing of fire somewhere between 400,000 and 1.5 million years ago, but few thought its origins stretched so far back.
The Harvard scientists have concluded that cooking was commonplace for Homo erectus because of the change in the size of their teeth. When our ancestors began cooking food, their molar teeth slowly shrunk because they weren’t required to eat as tough of food for as long a duration. The Guardian reports that chimpanzees and apes spend about a third of their waking hours eating, while early humans only spent about 5-percent. The changes in tooth size and eating habits account for the invention of cooking, say researchers. Before cooking, we would have had to chew food for hours to obtain enough calories to survive.
Homo erectus beat out its rivals too. Earlier ancestor Homo habilis spent 7.2-percent of its day eating and Homo rudolfensis spent 9.5-percent of its day eating. Later species like Neanderthals and Homo sapiens (us), were more in line with Homo erectus, suggesting they knew how to cook as well.
This research means that cooking was even more important to our rise as a species than we previously thought. It also might explain part of our nature. Harnessing fire may have given us a greater desire to begin harnessing and controlling just about everything else.
So…what will you eat for dinner tonight?
(image from Reuters)