We might never know exactly how people mastered fire and started cooking their food in Indian History, we only know when—between 500,000 and one million years ago. Roasting over an open fire was probably the first cooking method. Pit roasting—putting food in a pit with burning embers and covering it—might have come next. Then spit roasting, when hunters came home with the animal already on a spear and decided to cook it by hanging it over the fire and turning it. With sharp stone tools, meat could be cut into smaller pieces to make it cook faster. Food could be boiled in large mollusk or turtle shells where they were available, or even in animal skins, but pots were not invented until around 10,000 B.C. and there were no sturdy clay boiling pots until hrappan civilizations about 5000 B.C. Cooking in such vessels would probably have produced bacterial contamination, since there was no soap and no effective way to clean them. Finally, scientists believe that Homo sapiens—“wise man,” the direct ancestor of humans—appeared between one million and 100,000 years ago.
Before language was invented, early humans spoke with actions. They danced, which dance historian Joan Cass defines as “the making of rhythmical steps and movements for their own sake.” They danced together in religious ceremonies to ensure fertility of humans and crops, for rain, for a successful hunt. If the dance produced the result they wanted, they kept doing it exactly the same way again and again, turning it into a ritual. Music was added—beans or small stones in a pouch shaken or rattled, animal bones with holes drilled in them like a flute, maybe an animal skin stretched over a cooking pot to make a drum. Then, about 100,000 years ago, we developed language. We could warn our tribe of danger, tell them where there was food, plan ahead and cooperate in work, name things and places, and generally organize the world, which is a step to controlling it.
Early art, too, was often communication connected to fertility and food. Small figures, women with exaggerated breasts and hips, were carved out of rock. Animals were painted on cave walls. A mask “changes your actual identity and merges you with the spirit that the mask represents.” This is called sympathetic magic. As Sir James Frazer points out in The Golden Bough: a Study in Magic and Religion, the principle at work is that “like produces like”: if you make a symbol of what you want, it will happen. The woman will have a child, the hunt will be successful, and the animal your mask represents will be found. You have control over these things because you have, in a sense, created them. The animals most commonly represented in prehistoric cave paintings are horses, followed by bison, deer and reindeer, oxen, the ibex, then elephants and mammoths.
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