After a long day of work, one of my favorite ways to relax is cooking dinner. Seriously. Ask anyone who knows me: I love to cook. Nothing fuels my creative juices like trying a new recipe. Shopping for ingredients, mastering a new technique, even chopping vegetables—I relish it all. My infinitely patient husband calmly endures my culinary experiments. Tomorrow I’m subjecting him to butternut squash soup in pumpkin bowls. Of course, the best part is earning rave reviews.
What is it about humans and their obsession with food? I’m not talking about gluttony; I’m talking about the passion for creating, experimenting, and challenging that surrounds our interaction with food. Julie & Julia and Ratatouille, two of my favorite films, both capture the essence of what food means to us as a species. Old recipes connect us to our history and heritage, new concoctions inspire us to explore and pioneer; feasts draw people together for fellowship; food warms, comforts, and sustains not only our bodies, but our souls as well. (Can you tell I’m really into this?)
Now picture a dog waxing loquacious on kibbles or a rabbit raving about the difference between alfalfa and Timothy hay. For animals, food serves but one purpose: survival. Of course, early humans did not enjoy the luxury of grocery stores, cookbooks, and modern kitchens. For them, like the animals, food was about survival.
But unlike the animals, even the earliest humans seem to have practiced sophisticated hunting techniques and agriculture. In fact, the comparison of human hunting and gathering methods to those of Neanderthals interests both the evolutionary paradigm and Reasons To Believe’s human origins model.
In 2008, RTB biochemist Fuz Rana reported on anthropological research of Neanderthal behavior:
Because of their potentially prominent role in human evolution, anthropologists are interested in Neanderthal biology and behavior. This interest motivated an international team of paleoanthropologists and archeologists to analyze the fossil and archeological remains from two coastal caves located in Gibraltar….Associated with these finds were fossilized animal bones interpreted as the food stuff leftover from hunting and gathering expeditions.
Cataloging the animal remains in these locations revealed that Neanderthals and humans fed on similar prey, including dolphins and seals. This commonality impressed the researchers.
Fuz writes of this discovery, “Based on this new insight, some anthropologists conclude that Neanderthals had skills that compared to modern humans alive at that time, since they seemed to have exploited the same range of resources as modern humans, and likely used similar tactics to hunt and gather.” The question then became, do such findings indicate a cognitive similarity between Neanderthals and early humans and, thus, an evolutionary connection?
“Not necessarily,” Fuz writes, noting that “the sophistication of Neanderthal hunting and gathering practices compared to those of modern humans remains contentious among anthropologists.” Other research supports the idea of a drastic difference between Neanderthal and human behavior.
For instance, no archeological finds suggest that Neanderthals exhibited any “culture” beyond what one might expect from intelligent apes. Human archeological remains, by contrast, show that even early humans engaged in thriving culture, including artistic expression, music, and religion. Moreover, humans quickly developed tools and weaponry much more sophisticated than the clumsy objects employed by Neanderthals.
Additionally, a 2010 research report indicates that ancient human food gathering methods far outstripped any animal’s techniques. A group of researchers followed up on a 2001 study by analyzing isotopes from Neanderthal and human bones to determine the sources of protein in these two creatures’ diets. They found that Neanderthal protein came primarily from terrestrial herbivores, whereas human protein was derived from a wide range of sea food, fowl, and land mammals. Fuz notes:
The most recent work confirms these findings and indicates that at the time of their earliest appearance, humans displayed a far greater proficiency in obtaining food from their environment than did Neanderthals….Early human ability to access protein from a wide range of sources suggests superior intelligence.
From my perspective, as I happily make a mess of my little kitchen, I think human culinary prowess shows more than advanced mental powers. The creativity and meaning put into our edible creations illustrates yet again the image of the artistic and joyful God that designed us.
Resources: Fuz and Hugh lay out RTB’s human origins model in Who Was Adam?
Agriculture and the used of processed plant matter also strongly suggest a radical difference in human and animal cognitive capacities. Read about a recent discovery of ancient flour remains in Fuz’s latest TNRTB.