Ancient Human Ancestors Ate Raw Meat and Insects, But They Cleaned Their Teeth

Ancient Human Ancestors Ate Raw Meat and Insects, But They Cleaned Their Teeth

(Read the article on one page)

New research conducted by scientists at the University of York and the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona reveals for the first time that Europe’s earliest humans did not use fire for cooking, but had a balanced diet of meat and plants – all eaten raw.

Studying dental plaque from a 1.2 million-year-old hominin (early human species), recovered by the Atapuerca Research Team in 2007 in Sima del Elefante in northern Spain, archaeologists extracted microfossils to find the earliest direct evidence of food eaten by early humans.

These microfossils included traces of raw animal tissue, uncooked starch granules indicating consumption of grasses, pollen grains from a species of pine, insect fragments and a possible fragment of a toothpick.

All detected fibres were uncharred, and there was also no evidence showing inhalation of microcharcoal – normally a clear indicator of proximity to fire.

The Sima del Elefante site.

The Sima del Elefante site. Credit: University of York

Fiery debate

The timing of the earliest use of fire for cooking is hotly contested, with some researchers arguing habitual use started around 1.8 million years ago while others suggest it was as late as 300,000-400,000 years ago.

Possible evidence for fire has been found at some very early sites in Africa. However, the lack of evidence for fire at Sima del Elefante suggests that this knowledge was not carried with the earliest humans when they left Africa.

The earliest definitive evidence in Europe for use of fire is 800,000 years ago at the Spanish site of Cueva Negra, and at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel, a short time later.

Taken together, this evidence suggests the development of fire technology occurred at some point between 800,000 and 1.2 million years ago, revealing a new timeline for when the earliest humans started to cook food.

There is a lot of debate surrounding the issue of when ancient humans started using fire

There is a lot of debate surrounding the issue of when ancient humans started using fire ( public domain image )

Diet implications

Dr Karen Hardy, lead author and Honorary Research Associate at the University of York and ICREA Research Professor at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, said: “Obtaining evidence for any aspect of hominin life at this extremely early date is very challenging. Here, we have been able to demonstrate that these earliest Europeans understood and exploited their forested environment to obtain a balanced diet 1.2 million years ago, by eating a range of different foods and combining starchy plant food with meat.

This new timeline has significant implications in helping us to understand this period of human evolution - cooked food provides greater energy, and cooking may be linked to the rapid increases in brain size that occurred from 800,000 years ago onwards.

“It also correlates well with previous research hypothesising that the timing of cooking is linked to the development of salivary amylase, needed to process cooked starchy food.  Starchy food was an essential element in facilitating brain development, and contrary to popular belief about the ‘Paleodiet’,  the role of starchy food in the Palaeolithic diet was significant .”

Dr Anita Radini, PhD student at the University of York said:

“These results are very exciting, as they highlight the potential of dental calculus to store dietary and environmental information from deep in the human evolutionary past. It is also interesting to see that pollen remains are preserved often in better conditions than in the soil of the same age. Overall this is a very positive step in the discipline, in terms of preservation of material in the calculus matrix.”

Top image: Ancient humans eating raw meat ( condiment connection )

This article, originally titled ‘ Raw foodies: Europe’s earliest humans did not use fire’ was originally published by the University of York.

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Human Origins

God the Father (represented by an old patriarch with white hair) by Cima da Conegliano, c. 1515
The question of whether a god exists is heating up in the 21st century. According to a Pew survey, the percent of Americans having no religious affiliation reached 23 percent in 2014. Among such “nones,” 33 percent said that they do not believe in God – an 11 percent increase since only 2007.

Ancient Technology

The Antikythera Mechanism, National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Greece
Every time ancient Greece is mentioned most people automatically think of democracy, the Olympic Games, mythology and philosophy. It seems that not many are aware of how advanced the ancient Greeks were on a technological level as well and the Antikythera Mechanism, known as the world’s first analog computer, is the brightest example of all.

Opinion

View of the “Cueva del Pirul”, one of the largest systems of interconnected caves to the East of the Pyramid of the Sun. One can notice the many rough pillars left to support the roof and a number of side passages branching out in different directions.
Few of the modern visitors to Teotihuacan are aware of the vast and mysterious underworld of caves and man-made tunnels that extends under much of the ancient site and for miles around. The existence of these tunnels has been known for centuries, but not even the most recent research has been able to solve the mystery of their origin and purpose. Very much like at Giza, in Egypt, these tunnels are rumored to connect all the main pyramids by means of underground passageways, and perhaps even lead to the records of a lost civilization.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article