The Raw and the Stolen. Cooking and the Ecology of Human Origins.
Cooking is a human universal that must have had widespread effects on the nutrition, ecology, and social relationships of the species that invented it. The location and timing of its origins are unknown, but it should have left strong signals in the fossil record. We suggest that such signals are detectable at ca. 1.9 million years ago in the reduced digestive effort (e.g., smaller teeth) and increased supply of food energy (e.g., larger female body mass) of early Homo erectus. The adoption of cooking required delay of the consumption of food while it was accumulated and/or brought to a processing area, and accumulations of food were valuable and stealable. Dominant (e.g., larger) individuals (typically male) were therefore able to scrounge from subordinate (e.g., smaller) individuals (typically female) instead of relying on their own foraging efforts. Because female fitness is limited by access to resources (particularly energetic resources), this dynamic would have favored females able to minimize losses to theft. To do so, we suggest, females formed protective relationships with male co-defenders. Males would have varied in their ability or willingness to engage effectively in this relationship, so females would have competed for the best food guards, partly by extending their period of sexual attractiveness. This would have increased the numbers of matings per pregnancy, reducing the intensity of male intrasexual competition. Consequently, there was reduced selection for males to be relatively large. This scenario is supported by the fossil record, which indicates that the relative body size of males fell only once in hominid evolution, around the time when H. erectus evolved. Therefore we suggest that cooking was responsible for the evolution of the unusual human social system in which pair bonds are embedded within multifemale, multimale communities and supported by strong mutual and frequently conflicting sexual interest.