How did the first humans prepare food before they mastered the use of fire? Research by Roger Summons, professor of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, has raised the intriguing possibility of taking advantage of hot springs for boiling.
By studying the sediments deposited about 1.7 million years ago near the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where anthropologists have discovered numerous hominid fossils and stone tools, lead author Ainara Sistiaga, post-doctoral fellow at MIT and the University of Copenhagen, and his colleagues were surprised to find lipids produced by bacteria. that thrive only in waters such as the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park.
The signature of these heat-loving bacteria in the sediment suggests that similar sources existed near these sites when humans first lived there. “As far as we can tell, this is the first time that researchers have presented concrete evidence for the possibility that people are using hydrothermal environments as a resource, where animals have congregated and where the potential to cook was available.” said Summons.
Although it is not known how or even if these human ancestors would have used the springs for cooking, they could have slaughtered animals and soaked the meat in hot water, and they could also have boiled roots and tubers. . They could even have caught animals that have known their disappearance by falling.
“If there was a wildebeest that fell in the water and was cooked,” says Sistiaga, “why wouldn’t you eat it?”