Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Ancient Cooking and Sex Volume 52 Number 3, May/June 1999
by Andrew L. Slayman

The invention of cooking sparked the evolution of modern human social and sexual behavior in which males and females pair up, according to Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham and colleagues. In a forthcoming issue of Current Anthropology, they argue that cooking arose among early Homo erectus about 1.9 million years ago. Because cooking necessitated collecting food in one place rather than eating it where it was found, there was the risk of theft. When males stole food from females, the latter responded by offering food and sexual favors to males who would protect them.

The first cooking is signaled by the smaller teeth and jaws, larger female body size, and larger brain size of H. erectus compared to its forebears, argue Wrangham and coauthors, as well as by possible hearths suggesting control of fire. In particular, they point out that many tubers, high in energy, are edible only when cooked; this important new food source would have helped H. erectus develop its larger body and brain. While body and brain size have been said to reflect an increase in meat-eating, the authors note that modern African hunter-gatherers eat mostly plants and that among omnivorous animals like chimpanzees, meat-eaters have smaller or only slightly larger bodies than plant-eaters.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America