The oldest fish papillotes

Gesher Benot Yaakov is a prehistoric site in Galilee, northern Israel. To prehistorians, who identify it by the first three letters of its Hebrew name GBY, the site is of great scientific importance because it indicates the emergence of human groups from Africa 800,000 years ago. fire: probably Homo erectus. Today, the Irit Zohar team from the Steinhardt Museum in Tel Aviv reveals how much they really evolved: these Acheuleans knew how to control the cooking of their fish!

The Acheuleans are populations that produced flake-on-flake cutting tools and tools, but above all practiced a folding technique defined by their symbolic tool, the biface. In GBY, opportunistic hunter-gatherers used such axes or knives to carve elephants and other animals, cut exploitable plants, and prepare fish. Giant carp, up to two meters in size, really thrived in the nearby lake – Lake Paleo-Hula, and most likely the inhabitants of GBY could easily catch them by hand. The distribution of many micro-artifacts in burnt flint during previous studies in the area demonstrated the existence of stable hearths, so that fire was often used – without the inhabitants knowing how to produce it of their own volition.

The researchers collected about 40,000 microbial fish fossils in the same layers as the burnt flints. More than 95% are pharyngeal teeth, the teeth carried deep in the mouths of carp (and other fish). However, we do know that fish cartilage softens when heated – they are often used to make gelatin – and does not keep well after cooking. Therefore, the high proportion of pharyngeal teeth in these fish remains indicates that they were cooked at a certain controlled temperature and not burned directly over fire.

One of the carp teeth was found at the prehistoric site of GBY in Galilee, northern Israel.

© Tel Aviv University

To test this hypothesis, Irit Zohar’s team studied the thermal expansion of the nanocrystals that make up tooth enamel by X-ray diffraction, thus determining their exposure to low and moderate heat. Specifically, at temperatures below 500°C, wood fires typically produce temperatures between 800°C and 1000°C. Conclusion: GBY residents cooked the carp they caught with their bare hands at a temperature below 500°C.

The researchers also traced the hydrological history of Lake Hula through isotopes, particularly oxygen and carbon, showing that carp was on the Acheulean menu all year round.

How did they cook these fish? Nothing indicates this, but the researchers speculate that GBY communities wrapped their carp in giant lily pads collected from the lake and then buried them in the ground near the hearths. This method of cooking fish in leaves is still used today.

The prehistoric inhabitants of GBY are members of the Acheulean wave that spread into Eurasia, where its arrival is evidenced by the sudden appearance of “advanced biceps” – uniquely sharp and symmetrical biceps. In Europe, the first bipeds developed about 700,000 years ago (Notarchirico, Italy), then others – all 650,000 years ago (Moulin Quignon, Abbeville). The gap between GBY and Europe is probably explained by the time it takes to learn to deal with the cold. Fire—perhaps a tamed fire that had to be contained first—undoubtedly played a role. The first attestation of the habitual use of fire in Europe dates back at least 450,000 years (to the Menez-Dregan cave at Plouhinec in Brittany); After 400,000 years domesticated fire is clearly in common use. The presence of fire in GBY and therefore with the wave H. erectus No less than 800,000 years later invaded Europe: a form of digestion, cooking optimizes the caloric value of food, sterilizes and neutralizes it; besides freeing the face from the need for strong chewing muscles, it provided more energy for the development of the human brain. Finally, fish is also a particularly good food for the brain, especially if it is cooked in a thick layer, as always. A recipe about 780,000 years old.

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