Boiling water is as easy as they say — even without pots and pans. Thanks to the laws of physics, you can put a flame up to a paper cup or plastic bag, and water will boil without scorching the container. A paleontologist is speculating that Neanderthals cooked their meat in birch bark trays or skin bags using the same principle, reports National Geographic.
John Speth presented his theory at a recent meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, where his talk included actually boiling water in a paper cup. The trick works because water boils at a lower temperature than paper — or for that matter, birch bark or animal hide — burns. The water cools the container from the inside as the flame heats it up. You can even try it at home.
Speth came up with the idea after seeing it on, believe it or not, the reality TV show Survivorman. He's marshalled evidence in support of his theory, including animal bones without teeth marks that suggest the fat was boiled off, and grains found in Neanderthal teeth that seem to have been cooked. Neanderthals also knew how to make tar that could waterproof birch trays for boiling
Not all paleontologists are convinced of the boiling theory though. Some are, in the words of National Geographic, letting "Speth's idea simmer for a while before they swallow it." It's hard to prove without direct evidence, but it's certainly intriguing that a phenomenon which feels so counterintuitive today might have been anticipated by Neanderthal food technology. [National Geographic]