A new study, conducted by scientists at the University of York, discovered the earliest humans in Europe who lived in Sima del Elefante, Atapuerca in Spain did not cook their food. It seems they have eaten their food raw, both meat and plants.

Scientists removed dental plaques from a 1.2 million-year-old hominin whose remains were found in Sima del Elefante. After removing the plaque, they analyzed it and found some interesting results. The ancient plaque offered some evidence of the food early humans consumed. Remains contained traces of starchy carbohydrates from plants, meat and plant fibers.

The Sima del Elefante site - Image Source: University of York
The Sima del Elefante site – Image Source: University of York

The fibers were not charred, and there was no evidence of micro charcoal inhalation, which could mean proximity to the fire. It seems the earliest humans in Europe consumed raw food. Researchers reported that “This study has revealed the earliest direct evidence for foods consumed in the genus Homo. All food was eaten raw, and there is no evidence for processing of the starch granules which are intact and undamaged.”

The new findings can shed some light on when the use of fire for cooking began. Some theories claim humans started using fire for cooking 1.8 million years ago, others state this happened between 300,000 and 400,000 years ago.

Evidence from the study proves fire was not used at Sima del Elefante location, although earlier studies found evidence for fire in Africa. Since the first humans appeared in Africa, the new study shows they didn’t carry their knowledge of fire outside Africa. The earliest proof humans used fire in Europe was found at Cueva Negra is Spain, and it shows they used it 800,000 years ago. Based on both old and new evidence, humans started using fire between 800,000 and 1.2 million years ago.


The results can give more insight about human revolution, Karen Hardy, the study author said. Human brain saw a rapid increase in its size around 800,000 years ago, about the same time when our ancestors started cooking their food. Aside from influencing our evolution as a species, cooking also affects the chances of developing some health conditions, such as heart diseases, cataract, type 2 diabetes.


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