The earliest humans in Europe did not use fire for their food. Early human species that lived in Sima del Elefante, Atapuerca in Spain did not cook their meals. What they had were meat and plants that were eaten raw.
Ancient Dental Plaque Reveals Diet Of Early Humans
In a new study, Karen Hardy, from the University of York, and colleagues removed dental plaques from a 1.2 million-year old hominin whose fragments, one of the earliest of its kind in Europe, were found in Sima del Elefante.
Analysis of the ancient plaque offered the earliest direct evidence of the kind of food consumed by early human species as indicated by entrapped remains. Researchers found traces of starchy carbohydrates from plants, meat and plant fibers.
Raw Foodies: Hominins Did Not Cook Their Food
Hardy and colleagues noted that the fibers were not charred. They neither find evidence of inhalation of micro charcoal which could mean proximity to fire.
"This study has revealed the earliest direct evidence for foods consumed in the genus Homo," the researchers reported in their study. "All food was eaten raw, and there is no evidence for processing of the starch granules which are intact and undamaged."
New Timeline For Use Of Fire In Cooking
The timeline for the earliest use of fire for cooking has been a subject of debate. Some researchers argue that habitual use of fire for cooking began about 1.8 million years ago. Some suggest this happened between 300,000 and 400,000 years ago.
Potential evidence for fire has been discovered at some early sites in Africa. Evidence shows fire was not used at Sima del Elefante, which suggests that the knowledge of fire was not carried by the earliest humans after they moved out of Africa. In Europe, the earliest definitive evidence for use of fire is 800,000 years ago at Cueva Negra in Spain.
Based on these and the new evidence, fire technology likely developed at some point between 800,000 and 1.2 million years ago.
Cooking And Human Health
Study author Karen Hardy, from the University of York said that the new timeline helps researchers better understand human evolution. She cited that cooked food is associated with rapid increase in brain sizes that happened 800,000 years ago.
Cooking did not only potentially influence human evolution. Studies have also revealed that the way we cook food still affects likelihood for developing certain health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cataract and heart disease.