Evidence for the cooking of fish 780,000 years ago at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel

Irit Zohar*, Nira Alperson-Afil, Naama Goren-Inbar, Marion Prévost, Thomas Tütken, Guy Sisma-Ventura, Israel Hershkovitz, Jens Najorka

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations

Abstract

Although cooking is regarded as a key element in the evolutionary success of the genus Homo, impacting various biological and social aspects, when intentional cooking first began remains unknown. The early Middle Pleistocene site of Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel (marine isotope stages 18–20; ~0.78 million years ago), has preserved evidence of hearth-related hominin activities and large numbers of freshwater fish remains (>40,000). A taphonomic study and isotopic analyses revealed significant differences between the characteristics of the fish bone assemblages recovered in eight sequential archaeological horizons of Area B (Layer II-6 levels 1–7) and natural fish bone assemblages (identified in Area A). Gesher Benot Ya’aqov archaeological horizons II-6 L1–7 exhibited low fish species richness, with a clear preference for two species of large Cyprinidae (Luciobarbus longiceps and Carasobarbus canis) and the almost total absence of fish bones in contrast to the richness of pharyngeal teeth (>95%). Most of the pharyngeal teeth recovered in archaeological horizons II-6 L1–7 were spatially associated with ‘phantom’ hearths (clusters of burnt flint microartifacts). Size–strain analysis using X-ray powder diffraction provided evidence that these teeth had been exposed to low temperature (<500 °C), suggesting, together with the archaeological and taphonomic data, that the fish from the archaeological horizons of Area B had been cooked and consumed on site. This is the earliest evidence of cooking by hominins.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2016-2028
Number of pages13
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Volume6
Issue number12
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Funding

FundersFunder number
Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University
Irene Levi Sala CARE Archaeological Foundation5/14, 178/09, 206/20
Israel Antiquities AuthorityG-101/97
SMNH
Shmunis Family Anthropology Institute
University of Mainz
Horizon 2020 Framework Programme823827
Irene Levi Sala CARE Archaeological Foundation
European Research Council681450
Natural History Museum
Dan David Prize
University of Western Australia
Israel Science Foundation300/06, 27/12, 858/09
Tel Aviv University
Université de Lausanne
Koninklijk Belgisch Instituut voor Natuurwetenschappen

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