Human Evolution
The entrance to Denisova Cave in the Altai Mountains in southern Siberia near the Russia-Mongolia border where the remains of a female Neanderthal were found is shown in this 2011 photo released on February 17, 2016. A new study has found that her genome contained DNA from Homo sapiens, indicating that our species had interbred with Neanderthals about 100,000 years ago. Reuters/Bence Viola

If new research is to be believed, ancient cooking habits aided human evolution. Slicing and mashing made food simpler, thereby giving humans the needed time to improve language and other skills, such as running on two legs. Evolutionary scientists on Wednesday said developing tools for slicing and mashing by our ancestors made humans chew less, providing time for honing various skills.

The scientists observed a noticeable change, in fact a big shift in modern humans and all our ancestors 2.5 million years ago. The hominin family diverted from big teeth, chewing muscles and jaws. However, what baffled scientists was a paradox. Brains and bodies got bigger as mouths got smaller, thereby requiring more energy from food.

Some believe invention of cooking filled our ancestors with more nutrients while others pointed at the introduction of sliced meat into human diet. Yet, considering hominin cooking, smaller jaws emerged way before the earliest evidence (about a million years ago).

According to the study, published in journal Nature, scientists have found the answer to the big question - “What did humans do before they regularly had access to cooking?” As per the research, the answer was pounding and slicing.

“What we're arguing really is that simple processing could have made possible the selection that we see in the fossil record for smaller teeth, jaws and chewing muscles,” said evolutionary biologist and co-author Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University in Massachusetts.

According to him, this kind of change may have been beneficial for a number of adaptations like having better language abilities, ability to speak better and maybe even movement function. According to USA Today, Palaeolithic version of kitchen preparation and meat consumption brought major changes in the anatomy of ancient humans.

Stone Age humans evolved smaller teeth and faces once they shifted from complete vegetarianism to a more omnivorous diet.

“What we found is that by simply slicing meat and pounding vegetables, a hominin would be able to reduce chewing effort by about 17 per cent,” said Lieberman’s colleague Katherine Zink.

The findings implied that it was not the shift to meat eating that boosted human nutrition and subsequent evolution but the use of tools to make food more edible that contributed to evolution and nutrition. Early humans used heavy stones for mashing and sharp flakes for cutting, much before cooking was invented.