It looks like our early ancestors did more than just hurl feces.
Researchers from Yale and Harvard universities found that if you give a chimp an oven, it will actually figure out how to cook with it, even without any outside help.
Why is that significant, you ask? There is currently debate among researchers around whether or not early humans actually had the intellectual capacity to cook, which is an activity that requires planning, self control as well as the use of various tools. Current evidence suggests early humans learned to control fire between 400,000 and 2 million years ago.
In order to carry out the experiment, a psychologist from Harvard University set up an oven-like device at a chimpanzee sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“You can think of it as a chimpanzee microwave where, basically, if the chimpanzees placed raw food in the device and then we shook the device, [the food] came out cooked,” Evolutionary Biologist Alexandra Rosati told NPR.
Because fire could be dangerous to the animals, the oven didn’t actually cook the food. It simply contained a false bottom which held the cooked version of whatever they were served. That way, every time chimps would put something into it, they would leave with the impression that they had grilled the food on their own.
After the oven was set up, the chimps were given uncooked slices of sweet potato.
“At first, the chimps pretty much ate the food. But then you almost could see them have this insight like, ‘Oh, my goodness, I can put it in this device and it comes back cooked,'” Rosati said.
About half of the chimps came to prefer the oven, and practically ignored a second device that would return their food uncooked. Their taste for cooked food became so strong that some of them would actually hold onto their grub or carry it to other locations in order to fire it up.
The new study suggests that even as far back as two-million years ago, early humans were grilling up a storm.