develop the wheel, frickn’ lasers, rising crust pizza, Tivo, crop rotation, the cotton gin, animal husbandry and — one day soon — airborne-laser volcano-lancing technology — all because we got our grill on 1.9 million years ago.
Did Primordial Chefs Feed Our Giant Brains?
A Harvard primatologist thinks that the invention of barbecue occurred 1.9 million years ago, fueling the expansion of the early hominid brain.
Around 1.9 million years ago, something extraordinary happened to the chimp-like hominids called Homo erectus. Their brains began to enlarge, becoming double the size of those of chimpanzees. Several theories are beginning to coalesce about why this happened. One is that early people began to eat more and better meat around this time, which allowed more calories to be consumed faster. This led to a shrinking of gastrointestinal organs and an increase in brain size that essentially traded guts for gray matter.
Our big brains need this extra energy. Modern humans eat about the same number of calories as other primates that approximate their weight, but we suck up an average of 25 percent of our body’s energy expenditure, compared with the 8 percent sucked up by apes. Human babies use 60 percent of their energy to feed their heads.
Anthropologists have assumed that H. erectus ate their burgers and steaks raw, since most early fire pits discovered so far date back about 500,000 years, with the oldest, in Israel, dating back 790,000 years. Charred stones and tools associated with human sites have been discovered that date back as much as 1.5 million years, but these might have been naturally occurring fires.
Now Harvard University’s Richard Wrangham has provided some evidence that the very distant ancestors of America’s top chefs indeed may have learned to cook their antelope and rabbit. Cooking makes both plants and meat softer and easier to chew, providing more calories with less effort. What’s more, human teeth got smaller and duller at around this time, which is the opposite of what would have happened if people had had to rip and chew lots of raw meat.