Cooking food has been a significant part of human history, predating our own species. Scientists believe that our early human cousins, such as Homo erectus, were using fire to cook their food almost 2 million years ago. Recently, a study discovered potential evidence of the earliest known instance of rudimentary cooking: the remains of a roasted carp dinner dating back 780,000 years.
The study was conducted at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, an ancient lakeside site in Israel, which was home to a community of Homo erectus. Researchers examined fish remains, particularly teeth, found at the site. These remains were clustered around areas with signs of fire. Testing indicated that the teeth had been exposed to moderate temperatures, suggesting slow cooking rather than direct exposure to flames.
Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that our human cousins were using fire for cooking more than three-quarters of a million years ago, making it much earlier evidence of cooking than previously known. Although physical evidence for even earlier instances of cooking is yet to be found, many scientists believe that cooking likely started even earlier than this.
Cooking played a crucial role in human evolution. By making food easier to digest and providing more accessible nutrients, cooking allowed early humans to obtain more energy, which, in turn, fueled the development of larger brains. Based on the evolution of human brains and bodies, scientists estimate that cooking skills would have emerged around 2 million years ago.
The first cooked meals were far simpler than today’s elaborate feasts. However, over the millennia, humans began to eat not just for sustenance but also for community. The earliest evidence of feasting was found in a cave in Israel, dating back 12,000 years, where a specially prepared meal brought people together for a significant occasion. Feasting became a way to honor individuals, build community, and foster social bonds as humans transitioned from hunter-gatherer societies to more settled lifestyles.
While the nature of feasting has evolved over time, the underlying aspects of communal gathering, information exchange, social connections, and status dynamics continue to be present in modern-day celebrations. The discovery of these early feasting practices provides insight into our shared human experiences and highlights the enduring significance of communal meals throughout history.