Earliest proof of cooking shows our ancestors liked well-done fish

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An illustration of hominins exploiting and cooking Luciobarbus longiceps (large barb, Cyprinidae) on the shores of paleo Lake Hula(illustration by Ella Maru). Credit: Tel Aviv University

Early human ancestors living 780,000 years ago liked their fish well-done, Israeli researchers revealed Monday, in what they said was the earliest evidence of fire being used to cook.

Exactly when our ancestors started cooking has been a matter of controversy among archaeologists because it is difficult to prove that an ancient fireplace was used to prepare food, and not just for warmth.

But the birth of the culinary arts marks an important turning point in , because by making food easier to chew and digest it is believed to have greatly contributed to our eventual expansion across the world.

Previously, the first “definitive evidence” of cooking was by Neanderthals and early Homo sapiens 170,000 years ago, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

The study, which pushes that date back by more than 600,000 years, is the result of 16 years of work by its first author Irit Zohar, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University’s Steinhardt Museum of Natural History.

During that time she has catalogued thousands of fish remains found at a site called Gesher Benot Ya’aqov in northern Israel.

The site near the banks of the Jordan River was once home to a lake, where a treasure trove of ancient fish fossils helped the team of researchers investigate exactly when the first cooks started getting inventive in the kitchen.

“It was like facing a puzzle, with more and more information until we could make a story about ,” Zohar told AFP.

‘Desire to cook’?

The first clue came in an area that contained “nearly no fish bones” but lots of teeth, she said.

This could point towards cooking because soften and disintegrate at temperatures under 500 degrees Celsius (930 Fahrenheit)—but their teeth remain.

In the same area, a colleague of Zohar’s found burnt flints and other evidence that it had previously been used as a fireplace.

And most of the teeth belonged to just two particularly large species of carp, suggesting they had been selected for their “succulent” meat, the study said. Some of the carp were over two meters (6.5 feet) long.

The “decisive” proof came by studying the teeth’s enamel, Zohar said.

The researchers used a technique called X-ray powder diffraction at the Natural History Museum in London to find out how heating changes the structure of the crystals which make up enamel.

Comparing the results with other fish fossils, they found that the teeth from the key area of the lake were subjected to a temperature of between 200-500 degrees Celsius (400-930 Fahrenheit).

That is just the right range for well-cooked fish.

Whether our forerunners baked, grilled, poached or sauted their fish remains unknown, though the study suggested they may have used some kind of earth oven.

Fire is thought to have first been mastered by Homo erectus some 1.7 million years ago.

But “because you can control for warming, that does not mean you control it for cooking—they could have eaten the next to the fire,” Zohar said.

Then the human ancestors might have thrown the bones in the fire, said Anais Marrast, an archaeozoologist at France’s National Museum of Natural History not involved in the study.

“The whole question about exposure to fire is whether it is about getting rid of remains or a desire to cook,” she said.

More information:
Irit Zohar et al, Evidence for the cooking of fish 780,000 years ago at Gesher Benot Ya’aqov, Israel, Nature Ecology & Evolution (2022). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-022-01910-z

© 2022 AFP

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Earliest proof of cooking shows our ancestors liked well-done fish (2022, November 19)
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Giant New Mexico fire rages as drought-hit US West braces for summer

Water levels have plummeted at Lake Mead due to the American West’s historic drought, exposing corroded barrels.

Firefighters struggled Friday to contain a giant blaze that has been burning for more than a month in New Mexico, raising fears for the summer ahead in the drought-hit western United States.

The so-called “Hermits Peak Fire” has torn through 168,000 acres at the southern end of the Rocky Mountains, destroying around 170 properties and forcing the evacuation of nearly 16,000 homes.

But the blaze remains just 20 percent contained.

“This is a historic fire weather event… this is a critical stage of the fire,” New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a briefing Friday.

“We have high temperatures and extreme wind. This is the worst possible set of conditions for any fire,” she warned.

The fire began on April 6 when a “prescribed” burn, intended to remove excess vegetation in a controlled area, escaped control due to and dry conditions.

The blaze comes at the start of the American West’s long fire season but is already the second-largest in New Mexico’s history, having burned an area more than the state’s average for an entire year.

The National Weather Service in Albuquerque warned that windy and are expected through the weekend and “will make our bad situation worse.”

US President Joe Biden this week declared a in New Mexico, unlocking federal resources including financial aid for affected individuals.

Like much of the American West, New Mexico is in the grip of a years-long drought that has left the area parched and vulnerable to wildfire.

Reservoirs have plummeted to dangerously low levels, with Lake Mead—the country’s largest reservoir, close to Las Vegas—at 31 percent.

The water has dropped to such a historic extent that a corroded barrel containing a four-decade-old body was found in the lake earlier this week.

Lake Mead is fed by the Colorado River, which has seen its flow drop by 20 percent over the past century, driven by atmospheric warming, according to a US Geological Survey report in 2020.

Although fires are a natural part of the climate cycle and help to clear dead brush, their scale and intensity are increasing.

Scientists say a warming climate, chiefly caused by human activities such as the unchecked burning of fossil fuels, is altering weather patterns.

This prolongs droughts in some areas and provokes unseasonably large storms in other places.



© 2022 AFP

Citation:
Giant New Mexico fire rages as drought-hit US West braces for summer (2022, May 6)
retrieved 7 May 2022
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Are ‘person’ or ‘people’ gender-neutral concepts? New study finds male tilt in analysis of billions of words

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The concept of a “person” or “people” is, despite its definition, not gender-neutral when it comes to how we use these terms. In fact, we tend to prioritize men when referring to people in general, shows a new study by a team of psychology and linguistics researchers.

The findings, which are reported in the journal Science Advances, are based on an analysis of more than 630 billion words drawn from internet web pages, using artificial intelligence tools to measure what words mean based on how they are used by millions of individuals.

“Many forms of bias, such as the tendency to associate ‘science’ with men more than , have been studied in the past, but there has been much less work on how we view a ‘person,’ ” says April Bailey, a postdoctoral researcher in New York University’s Department of Psychology and the lead author of the paper.

“Our findings show that even when using gender-neutral terms, we prioritize men over women,” adds co-author Adina Williams, a research scientist at Meta AI and a graduate of NYU’s in linguistics.

Bias at such a foundational level—our word choices—is potentially consequential, the researchers note.

“Conceptions of ‘people’ form the basis of many societal decisions and policymaking,” observes Andrei Cimpian, a professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and the senior author of the paper. “Because men and women are each about half of the species, prioritizing men in our collective idea of a ‘person’ creates inequity for women in decisions based on this idea.”







Summary of the forthcoming Science Advances paper entitled, “Based on Billions of Words on the Interent, PEOPLE = MEN”. Credit: April H. Bailey

The research team examined words’ meanings by considering how they are used by individuals. Specifically, the team studied how we use words expressing the of “person” and its gender-specific counterparts, “woman” and “man.”

To test whether we’re likely to think of men more often than we are of women when writing about “people,” the team used artificial intelligence algorithms that learn the based on how they are used, drawing from a language repository collected by the non-profit Common Crawl in May 2017. This repository included more than 630 billion mostly English-language words appearing on nearly three billion web pages.

The researchers considered how word meaning is related to word context and use. For example, if you hear, “Each morning, Joe boiled water in the balak for tea,” you might guess that “balak” means something similar to “kettle,” even though “balak” is unfamiliar, because the words alongside “balak” (“tea,” “boiled,” and “water”) also frequently co-occur with “kettle.”

In the Science Advances paper, the researchers investigated, in three studies, the meaning of “person” and related words (e.g., “people”) by taking into account adjacent words—the linguistic context.

In the first study, they compared the similarity in meaning (inferred via linguistic context) between words for people (e.g., “individual”) and words for men (e.g., “he” and “male”) to the similarity in meaning between words for people and words for women (e.g., “she” and “female”).

They found that words for people were used more similarly, and were thus more similar in their meaning, to words for men than to words for women—and by a statistically significant margin. Put another way, the collective concept “people” overlapped more with the concept “men” than with the concept “women” in the studied words.

In the second study, instead of focusing on words for people, the team examined words denoting features central to this concept—specifically, words for traits that commonly describe what people are like. They compared hundreds of trait words identified in past research as common descriptors of people (e.g., “extroverted,” “analytical,” and “superstitious”) to the same lists of words for women and for men from the paper’s initial study.

They found that the meaning of these descriptor words in the second study were, overall, more similar to the meaning of words for men than to the meaning of words for women, with a statistically significant difference between the two. That is, common words that describe what people are like (e.g., “extroverted”) are also used more similarly to words for men than to words for women.

In a third study, the researchers studied the use of verbs—a reasonable area for exploration given the initial findings. Specifically, if the collective concept “people” overlaps more with the concept “men” than with the concept “women,” then words that describe what people do and what is done to them (e.g., “love,” “annoy”) may also be more likely to be similar in their contextual meaning to words denoting men than to words denoting women.

In this study, they compared the similarities between more than 250 verbs that describe actions that people take (e.g., “facilitate,” “smile,” and “threaten”) and words for men vs. words for women.

As with the second study, which focused on common words that describe what people are like, words that describe what people do (e.g., “run”) were also used more similarly to words for men than to for women—a difference that was again statistically significant.



More information:
April H. Bailey, Based on billions of words on the internet, PEOPLE = MEN, Science Advances (2022). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abm2463. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abm2463

Citation:
Are ‘person’ or ‘people’ gender-neutral concepts? New study finds male tilt in analysis of billions of words (2022, April 1)
retrieved 1 April 2022
from https://phys.org/news/2022-04-person-people-gender-neutral-concepts-male.html

This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no
part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

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