• A large number of fish remains were found at an archaeological site in Israel
  • Remains of huge carp-like fish measuring 6.5 feet in length was among them
  • It showed signs of being carefully heated at least 780,000 years ago

When exactly did humans start cooking with fire? Scientists now say it started at least 780,000 years ago.

A team of international researchers has found a large number of fish remains at the Gesher Benot Ya'aqov (GBY) archaeological site in Israel. The discovery, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is believed to be the oldest evidence of controlled cooking using fire.

At the site, they also found remains of a huge carp-like fish, measuring 6.5 feet in length. It shows signs of having been carefully heated some 780,000 years ago. This is the oldest known evidence of cooking using fire in Eurasia.

"We do not know exactly how the fish were cooked but given the lack of evidence of exposure to high temperatures, it is clear that they were not cooked directly in the fire and were not thrown into a fire as waste or as material for burning," Dr. Jens Najorka, of the Natural History Museum in London, said in a news release.

Until now, the oldest evidence of cooking was the 170,000-year-old burned remains of starchy plants found in an underground oven in Africa. The latest discovery suggests humans started cooking with fire approximately 600,000 years before what was previously thought.

A closer analysis of the teeth of the now-extinct species shows they were freshwater fish caught from a nearby lake, which has now dried up.

"The large quantity of fish remains found at the site proves their frequent consumption by early humans, who developed special cooking techniques," researchers said. "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 of the benefits of cooking fish before eating it."

Scientists believe that besides making digestion easier, cooking allowed human brains to evolve and grow, reported ScienceAlert.

"Gaining the skill required to cook food marks a significant evolutionary advance, as it provided an additional means for making optimal use of available food resources," said Naama Goren-Inbar, an archaeologist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site is a treasure trove for archaeologists. Previously, the presence of flint, basalt and limestone tools, as well as fruits, nuts, seeds and many types of land mammals, were found there.

Freshwater habitats might have played a role in humans' exodus from Africa. The ancient Hominini tribes might have followed a trail of freshwater habitats to sustain themselves while moving out of Africa.

"This study provides evidence of fish cooking by early hominid ... emphasizing the role of wetland habitats in offering a stable, year-round source of food that played an important role in hominin subsistence and dispersal across the Old World," researchers wrote in their paper.

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Representative image. Kati/Pixabay