Posted September 20, 2011

Homo erectus was presumably the first chef in human history. Recently uncovered clues indicate this hominid – that arose around 1.9 million years ago – used fire and tools when preparing his food, the US journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has reported.

Chris Organ of Harvard University and his team discovered that Homo erectus had significantly smaller molars than other related primates, indicating a different diet.

The team deduced a shift from raw, unheated food to softer prepared meals must have taken place to accompany the rise of Homo erectus almost two million years ago. Apart from smaller molars, a smaller bowel volume indicates that Homo erectus had begun preparing his meals.

Molars function like millstones and are used to grind food into digestible pieces, while preparation of food using tools and heat softens it, making it easier to digest. The result was smaller molars, according to the scientists.

A normal primate would spend almost half its day (48 per cent) eating, while humans only spend around 5 per cent of their day eating. Organ’s team compared data on teeth, body weight and genetic makeup in non-human primates, 14 extinct hominids and modern man to discover when the shift to shorter time spent eating took place in human history.

The scientists believe that normal evolutionary steps are unable on their own to explain the anatomical changes that they found.

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