Homo erectus was first master of the kitchen: study

August 22, 2011
Senior Palaeontologist at the National Museum of Kenya, Frederick Kyalo Manthi, carries the remains of a homo erectus discovered in 2000 near lake Turkana in Kenya in Nairobi in 2007. The first ancestor of modern humans to have mastered the art of cooking was likely homo erectus, which evolved around 1.9 million years ago, according to a US study.

The first ancestor of modern humans to have mastered the art of cooking was likely homo erectus, which evolved around 1.9 million years ago, according to a US study published Monday.

The ability to cook and process food allowed homo erectus, the Neanderthals and homo sapiens to make huge evolutionary leaps that differentiated them from chimpanzees and other primates, said researchers at Harvard University.

Based on an analysis of DNA, molar size and body mass among non-human primates, modern humans, and 14 extinct , the findings in the support previous studies that suggested homo erectus may have known how to cook.

Preparing food with tools and fire meant more calories could be consumed and less time needed to be spent foraging and eating. Molar sizes shrunk while body mass increased.

Among primates, animals with larger body sizes grew bigger molars and spent more time eating -- great apes of similar size to humans spend about 48 percent of the day consuming calories.

"Homo erectus and spent 6.1% and 7%, respectively, of their active day feeding," said the Harvard study, adding that modern humans spend 4.7% of their days eating.

"Human feeding time and molar size are truly exceptional compared with other primates, and their oddity began around the start of the Pleistocene," said the study, referring to the epoch that began about 2.5 million years ago and ended 11,700 years ago.

Cooking may actually have originated with other species that also lived in Africa and came just before homo erectus, including and homo rudolfensis, the study said.

In any case, the tools and behaviors necessary to support a cooking culture "related to feeding and now necessary for long-term survival of modern humans evolved by the time of and before our lineage left Africa."

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1 / 5 (2) Aug 22, 2011
This finding really shouldn't be considered new; we've known that Homo Erectus used fire(the first earth lifeform to do so); what else did they use fire for other than cooking?

Still, the more you think about some Homo Erectus sitting there 'cooking' . . . imagine some guy turning the animal or even some vegetable, tasting it to see if it's just right, the funnier and more remarkable this idea becomes!
5 / 5 (5) Aug 22, 2011
what else did they use fire for other than cooking?

Felling large trees, chasing animals by setting the forest on fire, curing wood to create better weapons with sharper points, splitting rock, keeping themselves warm, scaring off predators.
not rated yet Aug 26, 2011
Well, I'm just darn lucky to be homo sapiens because my mom is making fried pork tenderloin with sauerkraut/bacon bits over the stove!
Pat Shipman
not rated yet Aug 31, 2011
What this study sadly overlooks is that there is abundant evidence that early Homo was using tools to access animal foods (meat, fat, marrow), a substantial improvement in diet, at the time that Organ et al. propose a dietary shift to cooked tubers made so much difference. On the one hand, we have a well-documented dietary shift to increased carnivory (and carnivores spend much less time feeding than any sort of herbivore) that might explain the changes in the hominin lineage; on the other, we have a hypothesis that cooking and fire and the underlying cause of these shifts but THERE IS NO CREDIBLE EVIDENCE OF THE USE OF CONTROLLED FIRE until 780,000 years ago, long after the changes in question occurred. Organ et al want to argue that fire and cooking made the difference, but they can't even prove that ONE such event occurred, never mind enough to cause great differences in humans. This is a very flawed argument.

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