World's oldest cooked meal discovered - a prehistoric fish supper

Tel Aviv University/Cover Images

Israeli researchers have discovered the world's oldest fish supper - a carp-like fish displaying the earliest signs of having been cooked by prehistoric humans 780,000 years ago.

A close analysis of the remains of a fish found at the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov (GBY) archaeological site in Israel shows that it was cooked roughly 780,000 years ago.

Until now, the earliest evidence of cooking dates to approximately 170,000 years ago. The question of when early man began using fire to cook food has been the subject of much scientific discussion for over a century. These findings shed new light on the matter and were published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Study leader Dr. Irit Zohar said: "This study demonstrates the huge importance of fish in the life of prehistoric humans, for their diet and economic stability.

"Further, by studying the fish remains found at Gesher Benot Ya'aqov we were able to reconstruct, for the first time, the fish population of the ancient Hula Lake and to show that the lake held fish species that became extinct over time.

"These new findings demonstrate not only the importance of freshwater habitats and the fish they contained for the sustenance of prehistoric man, but also illustrate prehistoric humans' ability to control fire in order to cook food, and their understanding the benefits of cooking fish before eating it."

In the study, the researchers focused on pharyngeal teeth (used to grind up hard food such as shells) belonging to fish from the carp family. These teeth were found in large quantities at different archaeological strata at the site. By studying the structure of the crystals that form the teeth enamel, the researchers were able to prove that the fish caught at the ancient Hula Lake, adjacent to the site, were exposed to temperatures suitable for cooking, and were not simply burned by a spontaneous fire.