Have you ever thought that chimpanzees could cook food? Harvard and Yale university research scientists have reported that chimpanzees have both patience and foresight to resist eating raw food and to place it in a device for cooking, thus indicating that they can cook.
Many primates, including chimpanzees, have difficulty giving up food already in their possession and show limitations in their self-control when faced with food. Researcher Felix Warneken and Alexandra G. Rosati, both of whom are at Harvard studying cognition, wanted to see if chimpanzees had the cognitive foundation to help them to cook. They found that chimpanzees would give up a raw slice of sweet potato in their hand if they visualized the prospect of getting a cooked slice of sweet potato a bit later.
The research grew out of the idea that cooking itself may have driven changes in human evolution. This hypothesis has been put forth by Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist at Harvard and several colleagues about 15 years ago in an article in Current Anthropology, and more recently in his book, 'Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.'
Wrangham said, "Cooking may have begun something like two million years ago, even though hard evidence only dates back about one million years. For that to be true, some early ancestors, perhaps not much more advanced than chimps, had to grasp the whole concept of transforming raw into cooked."
Initially, the scientists were wary of giving chimps access to real cooking devices. Then, they came up with a method of using two plastic bowls fitted closely together with pre-cooked food hidden in the bottom tub. When a chimpanzee placed a raw sweet potato slice into the device, a researcher shook it, then lifted the top tub out to offer the chimp an identical cooked slice of sweet potato, which the mammal accepted readily. The chimps showed several
indications that, given a real cooking opportunity, they had the ability to take advantage of it.
Dr. Rosati said, "Not only did the chimps have the patience for cooking, but that they had the minimal causal understanding they would need to make the leap to cooking."
The findings are published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B