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Our Love Of Cooking With Fire Dates Back A Million Years

If you ever wondered why you just can’t resist firing up the barbecue or chimenea at the weekend, then scientists have the answer – cooking with controlled fire is innate in us, and something our ancestors were doing more than one million years ago.

Cooking food over fire is a fun and tasty way to enjoy meals. But more than this, it makes the food easier for our systems to digest and for the energy to be released, which is why it’s been done for so many hundreds of thousands of years.

In fact, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University, Richard Wrangham believes that the invention of cooking enabled our ancestors to develop bigger brains and to become modern humans. He states that the controlled use of fire was more important to human evolution than even the invention of agriculture.

Wrangham said: “It gave extra energy, used for evolutionary success; reduced feeding time, freeing men to hunt; lowered weaning time, creating bigger families; allowed brain size to increase; gave us our shortfaced, flat-bellied anatomy; enabled the sexual division of labour. It was so important that it likely drove the evolution of our genus Homo. Basically, if the cooking hypothesis is right it turned us from advanced ape to early human.”

Caveman Cooking

And now scientists have found evidence that shows fire was probably used in cooking far earlier than previously thought.

Recently, evidence has been found to support Wrangham’s theory, after the remains of charred bones and plant matter burned in controlled fires were found in caves in southern Africa, dating back more than one million years. Whereas previous evidence of fires which date to about 800,000 years ago are difficult to determine if they are the remains of controlled or accidental fires, this discovery, made by a team of scientists led by the University of Boston’s Francesco Berna, was deep within the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa which makes it most likely to be the remains of controlled fire.

Professor Paul Goldberg of the University of Boston, an author on the study, said: “It’s 30 metres inside the cave, there weren’t any trees growing there, so it was unlikely there was any vegetation of wood or wood-like material that would have been there to burn on the spot – you can exclude local burning of material by natural causes. These ashes are really quite delicate, so they can’t have been transported by wind or water, they would have never survived as intact pieces. It has to be something local, right there on the spot. I don’t think it’s been transported at all.”

In addition, pot lids were found nearby in the Wonderwerk Cave, and it seems “pretty reasonable” to assume the only reason these are inside the cave is because humans carried them in – and that the remains are an example of the controlled use of fire for cooking, a million years ago.

So next time you throw a BBQ party and invite people round for some delicious flame-cooked food, keep in mind just how many years cooking with controlled fire has been in existence! Of course, humans are continually evolving ideas and the different types of barbecues or chimeneas available today give us far more control than any fires our ancestors likely lit. If you still need something to get cooking on then check out our brilliant range of La Hacienda Chimeneas.