Debunking non-Wrangham-related theories of cooking

Debunking the Claim that Cooking Began c. 790,000 Years Ago

First of all, The length of time to adapt to a different diet would only apply to raw foods (eg:- switching from eating raw fruit to eating raw meat). Even in this case, dietary changes take a very long time to come about,  judging from the Palaeolithic diet timeline:- Timeline of Dietary Shifts in the Human Line of Evolution.

Some geneticists think at least 1 million years is needed. However, since cooked-foods are so radically different from raw foods and no other species has ever gone in for cooking its food, over the last few billion years, it is extremely questionable as to whether humans can ever fully adapt to a cooked-food diet. To become fully adapted to cooked-foods, humans would have to not only be able to tolerate the toxins created by cooking, such as advanced glycation endproducts, nitrosamines, heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs are also a byproduct of fuel-burning, incidentally, and labelled as a pollutant), but, arguably, one would also have to prove that those very toxins were needed by the human body (at least if one was trying to claim that cooked-food was “better” for humans than raw food), as the primary difference between raw and cooked is that cooked-food contains less nutrients (usually) per kg, and has toxins in it which raw food doesn’t) – unfortunately, current scientific studies show, very clearly, that humans do suffer from those toxins:- Wikipedia.

Re the 790,000-fire-claim made in this article:- This is actually quite an old claim, not new at all, and I’ve debunked it, previously. I do wish the media wouldn’t state such things as a certainty, as most archaeologists all agree on one thing: that it’s impossible to pin down the exact date of the invention of fire (whether for warmth or cooking), due to inconclusive evidence. Most archaeologists and palaeoanthropologists point out that the evidence for the invention of cooking is much stronger for c.250,000 to300,000 years ago, as there’s plenty of evidence around for it. Yet anthropologists, such as Wrangham, who make vague claims for earlier times, generally only have 1 or 2 sites that they can point to. It is extremely unlikely that cooking or fire for warmth would only be invented in 1 or 2 areas c.790,000 years ago or whatever, and not transmitted to other tribes, to any extent, until c.250,000 years ago, when hearths were produced en-masse. The evidence from the 790,000-year-claim is also labelled “inconclusive” by a number of sources, with a mention of how the site has been partially destroyed etc, and there are a number of skeptics of this 790,000-year-claim.:-

Here’s a quote from, showing how cooking was not in evidence at Yaakov re the 790,000-year-claim:-

A 0.79 Myr old site in Israel [Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Science 304 (2004)725)] has more credible evidence, though there does not seem to havebeen any cooking or repeated fire creation. The earliest convincing evidence of fire use for cooking appears at the 0.3-0.55 Myr old late Homo erectus site at Zhoukoudian in China and the 0.4 Myr old presumedearly archaic Homo sapiens site of Terra Amata near Nice. In both cases the evidence is primarily in the form of food refuse bones that were apparently charred during cooking. Unfortunately, there still is not sufficient evidence at either site to say conclusively that there was controlled fire in the sense of being able to create it at will. However, by 100 kya, there is abundant evidence of regular fire use at Neandertal sites. By that time, they evidently were able to create fires when they wished to, and they used them for multiple purposes.

While the above paragraph gives credence to the Zhoukoudian Caves evidence, there are plenty of anthropologists who are highly sceptical of the Zhoukoudian evidence:-

(Quoted from the above page):-

The association of fire with faunal remains, stone-tools and hominid fossils is far from conclusive and is most likely the result of noncultural postdepositional processes (Binford and Ho 1985, Binford and Stone 1986).

Also re the weak evidence at zhoukoudian:-

The implication that h.sapiens was the first in the line of mankind to control fire was supported by evidence found at a site in Zhoukoudian, China. While it had been believed for some time that Zhoukoudian was the first site of controlled fire, evidence found through more exhaustive research indicates otherwise. There are no hearths at the site in China. Nor are there any food remnants. Such evidence leads to the belief that the burnt bones found at the site are probably the result of a natural fire (Wuethrich). The lack of strong evidence supporting the site as one in which man’s control of fire is displayed supported the belief that h.erectus lacked technological prowess and culture.


In short, any claim for much earlier dates for the invention of fire for warmth or for cooking are highly suspect, which is why the scientific community still sticks (roughly) to the 250,000-years-ago date for the invention of fire for cooking (as opposed to fire for warmth), as that’s the only time when hearths can reliably be found all over the place.