Chevre-Souris mouse goat

Ann Gibbons wrote in National Geographic: “Meat has played a starring role in the evolution of the human diet. Raymond Dart, who in 1924 discovered the first fossil of a human ancestor in Africa, popularized the image of our early ancestors hunting meat to survive on the African savanna. Writing in the 1950s, he described those humans as “carnivorous creatures, that seized living quarries by violence, battered them to death … slaking their ravenous thirst with the hot blood of victims and greedily devouring livid writhing flesh.” [Source: Ann Gibbons, National Geographic, September 2014 /*/]

“Eating meat is thought by some scientists to have been crucial to the evolution of our ancestors’ larger brains about two million years ago. By starting to eat calorie-dense meat and marrow instead of the low-quality plant diet of apes, our direct ancestor, Homo erectus, took in enough extra energy at each meal to help fuel a bigger brain. Digesting a higher quality diet and less bulky plant fiber would have allowed these humans to have much smaller guts. The energy freed up as a result of smaller guts could be used by the greedy brain, according to Leslie Aiello, who first proposed the idea with paleoanthropologist Peter Wheeler. The brain requires 20 percent of a human’s energy when resting; by comparison, an ape’s brain requires only 8 percent. This means that from the time of H. erectus, the human body has depended on a diet of energy-dense food—especially meat.

Archaeology magazine reported: In a deep deposit at El Mirador Cave — spanning the Early Neolithic to the Bronze Age (7,200 to 3,100 years ago) — archaeologists have found evidence of human consumption of dogs, wild cats, badgers, and foxes. The carnivore bones appear to have been butchered, broken, cooked, and gnawed by humans. Consumption of dog meat appears sporadically but repeatedly, while bones of the other carnivore species are less frequent. Researchers suspect they might have been accidentally hunted, but also may have provided extra protein in times of scarcity. [Source: Samir S. Patel, Archaeology magazine, May-June 2015]

There were no roast chickens or rabbit stews on the tables of Iron Age Britons. Chickens and brown hares, which are not native to the British Isles, only arrived sometime between the 5th and 3rd centuries B.C. Carefully buried intact bird and small mammal skeletal remains found in Hampshire and Hertfordshire suggest that when chickens and hares did appear, they were not viewed as a food source, but instead as exotic species. They may even have been revered and associated with deities. It was not until hundreds of years later, under Roman rule, that chickens and hares began to be farm-raised and eaten. [Source: Archaeology magazine, July-August 2020]

Good Websites Archaeology News Report ; : ; Archaeology in Europe ; Archaeology magazine ; HeritageDaily; Livescience ;Food Timeline, History of Food ; Food and History

12,000-Year-Old Feast of Wild Boar, Deer and Aurochs

Feasting of meat, chopping, hauling, bone tossing, jewelry making and boasting are all suggested by remains found at a prehistoric Danish butchering site, called Lundy Mose, described in a paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Jennifer Viegas wrote in “Bone fragments belonging to wild boar, red deer and aurochs were unearthed. But the hunters clearly had a taste for elk meat, since elk remains were prevalent at the site, located in South Zealand, Denmark. “Due to very good conditions of bone preservation, Lundby Mose offers exceptional opportunities for detailed reconstruction of exploitation patterns, and allows a very precise picture of the different activities involved in elk exploitation,” archaeologist Charlotte Leduc of the University of Paris wrote. [Source: Jennifer Viegas,, October 7, 2013 ~~]

Stone Age feast

“Her detailed analysis of the remains determined that the hunters first cut around the elk heads and other parts of the body in order to remove the hides. At least one of the hides then likely became a perishable container, comparable to a garbage bag, upon which refuse was placed and later bundled. The hunters then removed meat from easy-to-access parts, such as the limbs, and likely feasted on it right then and there. No roasting pit or evidence for fire is mentioned, so it might have been consumed raw. All skeletal parts containing marrow — now a delicacy in many fine restaurants — were fractured to enable its extraction. ~~

“Wietske Prummel of the University of Groningen, who analyzed another prehistoric Northern European butchering site, told Discovery News that marrow was usually “consumed by hunters immediately after butchering. It was their reward for the successful kill.” The hunters skillfully cut around the body, trimming fat and boning meat for later easy consumption. Leduc thinks much of the meat could have been transported to a nearby settlement site. Before that happened, however, the hunters removed select bones, such as from the long limbs, likely for making bone weapons and tools. They also removed the antlers. ~~

“The elk’s shoulder blade bones were taken out and afterwards, back at the settlement, “were sometimes worked and used presumably as knives for fish processing,” Leduc suspects. As the hunters worked, they appear to have dumped waste material onto the reserved hide. It was later tossed into a nearby lake. The front teeth of the elks were missing, suggesting “a specific status of front teeth for the hunters,” according to Leduc. Other prehistoric hunt scenes support this theory, as do discoveries of prehistoric tooth bling. ~~

“This series of events likely played out countless times, even long before 12,000 years ago. “Modern humans hunted and butchered large game and cooked the meat from circa 45,000 years ago when they arrived in Europe,” Marcel Niekus of the University of Groningen, told Discovery News. The practices probably even went back to Neanderthal times, but not necessarily to the benefit of these now-extinct members of the human family tree. A prior study in the Journal of Anthropological Science, authored by Fernando Rozzi of France’s National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), suggests that around 30,000 years ago, a person in France might have consumed a Neanderthal child and made a necklace out of its teeth.” ~~

Feast of Turtles and Steak for 12,000-Year-Old Female Shaman

The world's first known organized feast — or food event of any kind — appears to have been a meal for 35 people that included the meat 71 tortoises and at least three wild cattle held around 12,000 years ago at a burial site in Israel. Jennifer Viegas wrote in Discovery News: “The discovery additionally provides the earliest known compelling evidence for a shaman burial, the apparent reason for the feasting. A shaman is an individual who performs rituals and engages in other practices for healing or divination. In this case, the shaman was a woman. "I wasn't surprised that the shaman was a woman, because women have often taken on shamanistic roles as healers, magicians and spiritual leaders in societies across the globe," lead author Natalie Munro told Discovery News. [Source: Discovery News, Jennifer Viegas, August 30, 2010 ||~||]

“Munro, a University of Connecticut anthropologist, and colleague Leore Grosman of Hebrew University in Jerusalem excavated and studied the shaman's skeleton and associated feasting remains. These were found at the burial site, Hilazon Tachtit cave, located about nine miles west of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. According to the study, published in the latest Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the grave consisted of an oval-shaped basin that was intentionally cut into the cave's floor. "After the oval was excavated, the sides and bottom of the floor were lined with stone slabs lined and plastered with clay brought into the cave from outside," said Munro. ||~||

“The 71 tortoise shells, previously butchered for meat removal, were found situated under, around and on top of the remains of the woman. The woman's skeleton indicates she suffered from deformities that would have possibly made her limp and "given her an unnatural, asymmetrical appearance." A large triangular stone slab was placed over the grave to seal it. Bones from at least three butchered aurochs -- large ancestors of today's domestic cattle -- were unearthed in a nearby hollow. An auroch's tail, a wild boar forearm, a leopard pelvis and two marten skulls were also found. ||~||

“The total amount of meat could have fed 35 people, but it is possible that many more attended the event. "These remains attest to the unique position of this individual within her community and to her special relationship with the animal world," Munro said. Before this discovery, other anthropologists had correctly predicted that early feasting might have occurred just prior to the dawn of agriculture. ||~||

Harvard's Ofer Bar-Yosef, for example, found that fig trees were being domesticated in the Near East about 11,400 years ago, making them the first known domesticated crop. Staples such as wheat, barley and legumes were domesticated in the region roughly a thousand years later. Full-scale agriculture occurred later, about 10,000 years ago. As agriculture began, however, "there was a critical switch in the human mind: from exploiting the earth as it is to actively changing the environment to suit our needs," Bar-Yosef said. Munro agrees and thinks the change could help to explain the advent of communal feasting. "People were coming into contact with each other a lot, and that can create friction," she said. "Before, they could get up and leave when they had problems with the neighbors. Now, these public events served as community-building opportunities, which helped to relieve tensions and solidify social relationships."” ||~||

Diet of Stone Age Hunters in Denmark reported: “Analyses of Stone Age settlements reveal that the hunters were healthy and would gladly eat anything they could get their hands on, including carbohydrates – contrary to the modern definition of the Paleolithic, or Stone Age diet. The Stone Age hunter’s food contained large amounts of protein from fish, lean mean, herbs and coarse vegetables. Sabine Karg, an external lecturer at Copenhagen University’s Saxo Institute, specialises in archaeobotany. She says that Stone Age hunters joyfully munched away at carbs when the opportunity presented itself. “Carbohydrates have been part of their diet. In flooded settlements from the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods, traces of roots and seeds from various aquatic plants and wild grasses have been found.” [Source:, January 4, 2013]

aurochs in ancient cave art
“Easily digestible food with high energy content is a welcome feature if you have to make the effort of finding the next meal yourself, and traces of foods containing carbohydrates have also been found in the old settlements. “What archaeologists find in their excavations is dependent on both the preservation conditions and how the people had prepared their food,” says Karg. “For us, the conditions are particularly good in flooded settlements where organic material is well preserved, or in burn layers or fireplaces where we can find charred plant residues,” she says, giving an example: “We have found seeds of wild grasses, aquatic plants and root vegetables, all of which have formed part of the hunters’ diet. Especially after an unsuccessful hunt, they had to go out and dig up roots.”

“The Stone Age menu was widely different depending on the region, climate and season. Denmark presented the hunters with terrains ranging from frozen landscapes similar to today’s Greenland to warm islands with temperatures like those in today’s Southern European holiday destinations. The starch sources that the archaeologists have so far found include acorns and sea beet, the latter of which is the ancestor of both the beetroot and the sugar beet.

Health of Stone Age Hunters in Denmark reported: ““Pia Bennike, a biological anthropologist and lecturer at Copenhagen University, said: “The hunters’ dental health was excellent. There is very little tooth loss and no caries. That’s understandable because they didn’t consume many sugary carbohydrates. The only sweet food available at the time was honey. The advantage with the starch sources they had, e.g. root vegetables, is that it’s coarse food, which actually helps clean the teeth.” [Source:, January 4, 2013]

“Bennike explains that the Stone Age hunters made good use of their healthy teeth: “The skulls reveal that they had a strong chewing system and that their teeth were worn. The very heavy tooth wear shows that they have had a coarse diet, but also that perhaps they didn’t prepare their food as much as we do today.” From the bones, we see that the general health condition of the Stone Age hunters wasn’t all that bad. Their life expectancy, however, was a lot shorter than it is for modern man. “There are only few visible signs of diseases on the bones, but that could be put down to the low average age at the time. Those who survived into adulthood could expect an average lifespan of around 35-40 years,” says Bennike.

“Bone quality was generally better than today, but the question is whether that’s due to diet or exercise. Both factors have probably played a part, but the level of physical activity in particular makes a difference. It may also be an evolutionary feature because the further we go back in time, the stronger the bones.”

“Stone Age people got their calcium from shellfish Calcium is crucial to the quality and strength of our bones. Today we are advised to drink milk because of its high calcium content. But milk was not featured in the Stone Age diet, so the hunters must have found their calcium elsewhere. “Calcium is found in many other foods, e.g. shellfish, so I think they got the calcium they needed,” says Bennike.”

Evidence of 7700-Year-Old Barbecue Found in the Netherlands


According to an article in July 2011 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, 7,700-year-old remains of aurochs found in the valley of the River Tjonger, Netherlands, provide direct evidence of a hunting, butchering, cooking and feasting event that occurred more than 1,000 years before farming and cattle domestication arrived in the area."The animal was either caught in a pitfall trap and then clubbed on the head, or shot with a bow and arrow with flint point," co-author Wietske Prummel, an associate professor of archaeozoology at the University of Groningen, told Discovery News.[Source: Jennifer Viegas, Discover News, June 27, 2011 ***]

Jennifer Viegas wrote in Discover News: “Prummel and colleague Marcel Niekus pieced together what happened by studying an unearthed flint blade found near aurochs bones. These show that after the female aurochs was killed, hunters cut its legs off and sucked out the marrow. According to the study, the individuals skinned the animal and butchered it, reserving the skin and large hunks of meat for carrying back to a nearby settlement. Chop marks left behind by the flint blade show how the meat was meticulously separated from the bones and removed. ***

“Burn marks reveal that the hunters cooked the meaty ribs, and probably other smaller parts, over an open fire. They ate them right at the site, "their reward for the successful kill," Prummel said. The blade, perhaps worn down from so much cutting, was left behind and wound up slightly scorched in the cooking fire. Niekus told Discovery News, "The people who killed the animal lived during the Late Mesolithic (the latter part of the middle Stone Age). They were hunter-gatherers and hunting game was an important part of their subsistence activities." The researchers suspect these people lived in large settlements and frequented the Tjonger location for aurochs hunting. After the Iron Age, the area was only sparsely inhabited — probably due to the region becoming temporarily waterlogged — until the Late Medieval period.” ***

Aurochs, A Favorite Stone Age Meat Source

Aurochs, wild Eurasian oxen with large curved horns, were larger than their descendants, modern domesticated cattle. They were a favored meat source. Some of the early people that ate its first consumed the bone marrow and then the ribs. Jennifer Viegas wrote in Discover News: ““Aurochs must have been good eats for Stone Age human meat lovers, since other prehistoric evidence also points to hunting, butchering and feasting on these animals. A few German sites have yielded aurochs bones next to flint tool artifacts. Aurochs bones have also been excavated at early dwellings throughout Europe. [Source: Jennifer Viegas, Discover News, June 27, 2011 ***]

“Bones for red deer, roe deer, wild boar and elk were even more common, perhaps because the aurochs was such a large, imposing animal and the hunters weren't always successful at killing it. At a Mesolithic site in Onnarp, Sweden, for example, scientists found the remains of aurochs that had been shot with arrows. The wounded animals escaped their pursuers before later dying in a swamp. ***

auroch skeleton

Members of the even-toed ungulate family and cousins of buffalo, musk oxen, wild oxen and yaks, aurochs were huge animals, standing two meters at the shoulder, with long horns. Bulls were black with a white stripe running down their back. Cows were slightly smaller and reddish brown in color. Domesticated cattle are much smaller than aurochs.

Auroch ranged across Africa, Asia and Europe. Early men hunted them and depicted them in 30,000-year-old rock paintings. Their bones have been found at many early human settlements. Small shrines made from their horns were erected in 8,000-year-old settlements in Turkey. They endured until the 17th century when were made extinct by hunting and deforestation. The last auroch died in Poland's Jactorowka Forest in 1627. Wietske Prummel, an associate professor of archaeozoology at the University of Groningen, told Discovery News: "It became extinct due to the destruction of the habitat of the aurochs since the arrival of the first farmers in Europe about 7,500 years ago. These farmers used the area inhabited by aurochs for their dwellings, arable fields and meadows. The aurochs gradually lost suitable habitat."

Re-creation of a 9000-Year-Old Pit Roast in Cyprus

A 9,000-year-old, stone-lined, ash-covered meat-roasting pit was discovered at Prastio Mesorotsos, a site in the Diarizos Valley outside of Paphos in southwest Cyprus, by archaeologists from the University of Edinburgh in 2015. The pit was enormous: about 2.5 meters (8 feet) across and 1 meter (3 feet) deep. So big that Andrew McCarthy, director of the expedition, wasn't sure if cooking in it would actually work. "I think it's probably the closest to the theoretical maximum that a pit oven of this type could be," McCarthy told Live Science, referring to the fact that too big of a space would've taken too much energy to keep hot enough. "It was kind of at the limits of what's possible. After we reported on what was found, we decided that the best thing to do would be to test our hypothesis in a number of ways." [Source: Megan Gannon, Live Science, September 2, 2015 /^]

On McCarthy’s effort to recreate a 9,000-year-old barbecue using the same size pit, Megan Gannon wrote in Live Science: “Slightly cheating, the team used modern metal picks and shovels to build the oven. ("To get to know how to use stone tools, we would have had to train for a long time," McCarthy said.) But to gather their other party supplies, they did stick admirably close to ancient methods. They scoured local riverbeds for big igneous stones that would retain and radiate heat, and they hauled their choice rocks uphill in sacks or with a yoke made from a stick and baskets — a time-consuming and painstaking task. "We pretty much came to the conclusion that this would have been a slow process of collecting stones — maybe even over the course of years," McCarthy said. With buckets on their heads, McCarthy and his team collected the clay that they would use to hold the 400 stones in place around the outside of the oven. They made their own charcoals out of lemon and carob wood. They tanned 10 goat skins that would be used as parcels for the meat. And they crafted meat hooks out of sapling wood.” /^\

The sites of the prehistoric inhabitants contained the bones from pigs, goats and deer. McCarthy ordered a 150-lb. (70 kilograms) pig, skin on, head detached and an 80-lb. (38 kg) goat. “Days before the feast, the team let a fire burn in the stone-lined pit for 24 hours so that the ground, possibly still cold and damp from a wet winter, wouldn't suck the heat out of their oven. The day before the party, it was time to light the charcoals, and cover them with another layer of stones so the meat wouldn't directly touch the heat source. When the oven was ready, the team tossed on the pig, which had been stuffed with bulgur wheat, wild fennel stems, anise and bay leaves before getting sewn up tightly with hemp twine and packed into a blanket. The goat meat had been chopped up and divided into two parcels, spiced with herbs like wild oregano./^\

Tribal hunters in Brazil

The team packed more herbs on top of the meat, before sealing the oven with stones and a clay-and-mud mixture. Then they lit another fire on top of the closed pit so that heat wouldn't escape overnight. Not until the party time were they able to excavate the meat and perform a taste test. "I think it was a success," said McCarthy, adding that he was nervous about how the meat would turn out. "It really was delicious. You could taste the lemon wood and the carob and the bay leaf. It infused into the meat."/^\

Not only was the team able to feed nearly 200 guests but they also ate leftovers for a week. Leftovers may have sustained prehistoric partygoers for even longer. "I've been told that the fat that's rendered from the pig liquefies to some extent and you can put meat in a container of the fat," McCarthy said. "The fat itself will go rancid, but the meat will not, and you can store it for up to a year." Near the original ancient barbecue pit, the archaeologists also found a roughly contemporary, but much smaller, domed oven about 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) wide. McCarthy thinks this feature was likely used not for feasts but for everyday cooking.

“While preparing the pit roast, the team inadvertently recreated some of the more elusive, sensory elements of such a prehistoric feast — namely, the spectacle of the three-day-long fire required to heat the oven. "A fire of this size sustained for three days is probably something you wouldn't have seen all the time," McCarthy said. "If you think about this being a feast, a festival or big inter-community gathering, you would have had light and heat throughout the night. This is a very dramatic spot, and where the oven is located is almost like an amphitheater — it's between two rocks, it's shaded and sheltered, but at night it would have been a real stage, and you can imagine dancing and storytelling and all sorts of activities taking place there." /^\

Scandinavians Began Fermenting Fish 9,000 Years Ago

Lund University reported: “200,000 fish bones discovered in and around a pit in Sweden suggest that the people living in the area more than 9000 years ago were more settled and cultured than we previously thought. Research published in the Journal of Archaeological Science suggests people were storing large amounts of fermented food much earlier than experts thought. [Source: Lund University, February 8, 2016]

“The new paper reveals the earliest evidence of fermentation in Scandinavia, from the Early Mesolithic time period, about 9,200 years ago. The author of the study, from Lund University in Sweden, say the findings suggest that people who survived by foraging for food were actually more advanced than assumed.The Mesolithic period, which spanned around 10,000-5,000 B.C., marked the time before people started farming in Europe. At this time, researchers previously believed groups of people in Scandinavia caught fish from the sea, lakes and rivers and moved around following the sources of food they could find. “This is a really exciting and surprising finding that gives us a completely new picture of how the group lived,” said Adam Boethius, author of the study and historical osteology PhD student at Lund University in Sweden. “We’d never seen a site like this with so many well preserved fish bones, so it was amazing to find.”

“For the first time, the new research suggests the foraging people actually settled much earlier than previously thought. They stored huge amounts of fish in one place by fermenting them, suggesting the people had more advanced technology and a more sedentary life than we thought. If the people were more sedentary, they would have been better able to develop culture. This, say the authors, makes the culture more comparable to the Neolithic people in the Middle East, who were traditionally thought to have settled much earlier than their northern European counterparts.

Swedish fish dish

“Boethius and his colleagues had been excavating a site at Norje Sunnansund to rescue any artifacts from Mesolithic settlements before a road was built. As they started to dig, they found lots of fish bones, which indicated people had lived there. They then uncovered an elongated pit or gutter surrounded by small stake holes and completely filled with fish bones. “It was really strange, and because of all the fish bones in the area we knew something was going on even before we found the feature,” said Boethius. “At first we had no idea what it was so we rescued it from the area to investigate.”

“The excavation involved 16 archaeologists during five months. Boethius analyzed the feature and the contents and discovered the fish bones were from freshwater fish. He also showed the fish had been fermented – a skillful way of preserving food without using salt. The amount of fish they found could have supported a large community of people. Given the amount and type of fish found at the site, Boethius believes freshwater sources played a more important role in the development of culture in the area than we thought. He is now working on further research to find out exactly what people were eating, and how this knowledge impacts our understanding of these ancient societies.”

Whales, Caviar and Wild Boar Ribs 14,000 to 6,000 Years Ago

According to Archaeology magazine: Remains of small crustaceans in the residue of a 14,000-year-old campfire suggest that the Upper Paleolithic people of Malaga, Spain, had much larger animals on the menu. Researchers from the University of Valencia identified the remains of two species of barnacles that live only on whale skin. The finds suggest that people of the Magdalenian culture consumed whale meat, though there’s no evidence they hunted this one — the marine mammal may have beached or been stranded by a low tide. Both species of barnacles are associated with whales that now live in the Southern (but not Northern) Atlantic, suggesting that lower sea temperatures during the last Ice Age altered the cetaceans’ range. [Source: Samir Patel, Archaeology magazine, July-August 2013]

Scientists led by Anna Shevchenko from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology in Dresden, Germany worked out that about 6,300 years ago people near present-day Berlin, German consumed freshwater carp eggs, cooked in a fish broth in an earthenware bowl sealed with leaves. Andrew Masterson wrote in Cosmos magazine: The ingredients were identified by analysing the proteins contained in a thin crust of ancient food gunk found clinging to a small coarse ceramic bowl unearthed at an archaeological site called Friesack 4, in the Brandenburg region. The bowl had previously been radio-carbon dated to around 4300 B.C.. ,[Source: Andrew Masterson, Cosmos magazine, November 28, 2018]

“Writing in the journal PLOS One, Shevchenko and her colleagues note that most archaeological approaches to studying historical food substances are unable to definitively identify the species consumed. Initial protein analysis of the “charred organic deposits” adhering to a group of 12 shards that together comprise an unglazed, smoothed, dark brown, 10-centimeter-high pot known as #3258 indicated an aquatic origin. Electron microscopy carried out on the pot itself revealed an organic crust around the rim, suggesting that it was “probably capped with leaves”. Alas, the plant species could not be determined, leaving moot the question of whether Stone Age cooks used the material just to keep the heat in, or to add another flavour profile to the dish.

A crust from another bowl subjected to proteomic analysis by Shevchenko and her colleagues suggested it had been used to cook “pork with bones, sinews or skin”. All up, the evidence gathered from the Friesack 4 ceramics suggests that stereotypic images of Mesolithic hunters chowing down on great hunks of meat cooked brutally in camp fires are substantially wrong. For some at least, poached caviar accompanied by boar spare ribs was perhaps a more likely meal.

Britons Ate Frogs’ Legs Around 9,000 Years Ago

It appears that Stone Age Britons ate frogs’ legs 8,000 years before the French. An excavation at Blick Mead, Wiltshire, a mile or so from Stonehenge, yielded the charred bones of toad’s leg dating to between 7596 and 6250 B.C. The leader of the excavation, David Jacques, said: “We were completely taken aback.” [Source: Mark Brown, The Guardian, October 15, 2013]

common frog in the UK

Mark Brown wrote in The Guardian: “Following assessment by the Natural History Museum, it has been confirmed that there is evidence the toad bones were cooked and eaten. “They would have definitely eaten the leg because it would have been quite big and juicy,” said Jacques. And it’s not just toads’ legs. Mesolithic Wiltshire man and woman were enjoying an attractive diet. “There’s basically a Heston Blumenthal menu coming out of the site,” said Jacques. “We can see people eating huge pieces of aurochs, cows which are three times the size of a normal cow, and we’ve got wild boar, red deer and hazelnuts. There were really rich food resources for people and they were eating everything that moved but we weren’t expecting frogs’ legs as a starter.”

The discovery is entertaining, but has a wider importance, said Jacques, a s enior research fellow in archaeology at the University of Buckingham, as it adds to evidence that there was a near-3,000-year use of the site. “People are utilising all these resources to keep going and it is clearly a special place for the amount of different types of food resources to keep them going all year round. Frogs’ legs are full of protein and very quick to cook: the Mesolithic equivalent of fast food.” Andy Rhind-Tutt, chairman of Amesbury museum and heritage trust, said: “No one would have built Stonehenge without there being something unique and really special about the area. There must have been something significant here beforehand, and Blick Mead, with its constant temperature spring sitting alongside the River Avon, may well be it. I believe that as we uncover more about the site over the coming days and weeks we will discover it to be the greatest, oldest and most significant Mesolithic home base ever found in Britain.”

Russian Steppe Teens Ate Dogs 4,000 Years Ago in Manhood Ritual

According to a paper published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, roasted and chopped bones from at least 64 dogs and wolves, found at the 4000-year-old site of Krasnosamarskoe (Kras-no-sa-MAR-sko-yeh), north of the Caspian Sea in the Russian steppe, were signs of an initiation rite in which teenage boys ate the flesh of dogs at a ritual site to “transform” them into men. [Source: Bridget Alex, Discover, August 8, 2017]

Bridget Alex wrote in Discover: “Initiation rites, in which boys lived in the wild, acting like wolves and dogs, are described in ancient texts of Greek, Latin, Germanic, Celtic, Iranian, and Vedic Sanskrit—all Indo-European cultures that descended from the same ancestral group. Dog- and wolf-themed initiations were “very widespread in Indo-European mythology,” says archaeologist David Anthony, who coauthored the study with Dorcas Brown, both of Hartwick College, New York. “This seems to be the first site where we have concrete evidence for the actual existence of this kind of practice.” Moreover, finding a common Indo-European ritual of this age, in this region, adds support to a debated hypothesis: that Indo-European peoples originated on the Pontic-Caspian steppe and spread across Eurasia, aided by their invention of horse-drawn, wheeled vehicles.

“The small settlement of Krasnosamarskoe held a cemetery and two or three buildings, inhabited 3,700-3,900 years ago by people of the Srubnaya culture, sedentary pastoralists of the steppe. Although Srubnaya people left no written records, some say they spoke an Indo-European language based on cultural and genetic similarities with other Indo-European groups. Archaeologists from the U.S. and Russia excavated the site between 1995-2001, to investigate if, in addition to herding, the Srubnaya were also farming, as is the case with most sedentary people. “We found no evidence for agriculture whatsoever,” says Anthony.

“What they did find was chopped dogs and wolves—a lot of them. Dozens of dogs and at least seven wolves comprised 40 percent of the animal bones at Krasnosamarskoe. Other Srubnaya sites had less than 3 percent canid. “It was a surprise. It was anomalous,” says Anthony. He recalls thinking, “uh oh what does this mean?” Butchered dogs are relatively rare from archaeological sites worldwide, according to Lidar Sapir-Hen, an animal bone specialist at Tel Aviv University, Israel, who was not involved in the study. “If they are found they are usually buried complete…eating them is not a common practice,” says Sapir-Hen.

“At Krasnosamarskoe, the dogs and wolves had been roasted, fileted and chopped into bit-sized, 1- to 3-inch pieces. Over the span of about two generations, the canids were killed predominately in winter, based on microscopic analysis of growth lines in their teeth formed annually during warm and cold seasons. Most of the dogs were old, between six and 12 years, and well treated in life; their bones showed few signs of trauma before they were sacrificed. According to Anthony, “They were familiar pets.” Cows, sheep and other animals at the site did not show these patterns. They were killed year-round, sometimes at young ages, and butchered less intensively. While other animals were chopped into eight to 23 pieces, the average dog ended up in 54 parts. “Particularly the dog heads were chopped in a very standardized way with an axe, like somebody who has practiced and done it many times,” adds Anthony. And over 70 percent of the dogs subjected to DNA analysis proved to be male, hinting the canids were involved in male initiation rites.”

Dog Ritual Settlement at Krasnosamarskoe

Bridget Alex wrote in Discover: “The dog remains caused archaeologists to reevaluate other unusual features of the site. For example, although the researchers did not find agricultural plants, they did identify wild ones with medicinal properties, such as Seseli, a sedative possibly given to animals or humans during the rituals. With 27 graves, the site’s cemetery contained mostly children and only 4 complete adults — two males and two females. The adult men had unusual skeletal injuries caused by twisting to their knees, ankles, and lower backs. [Source: Bridget Alex, Discover, August 8, 2017]

“Anthony thinks the adults represent two generations — two couples — of ritual specialists who lived at the site. And the injuries: “This is just speculative… but it might be related to shamanic dancing,” he says. Based on the archaeological finds, researchers concluded that Krasnosamarskoe was a place where males went episodically, over many years, to eat dogs and wolves during rituals overseen by the site’s residents. But to understand the meaning of those rituals, Anthony and Brown reviewed the myths of many ancient and modern cultures. “We start looking for explanations for a male-centered rite of passage in which they’re being symbolically transformed into dogs and wolves,” says Anthony.

“There turned out to be plenty of examples in ancient Indo-European texts. These widespread sources discussed groups of adolescent boys, usually from elite families, who would spend a few years behaving like dogs or wolves in order to be initiated as warrior men. During this period, the teens were permitted to “behave obnoxiously in many ways,” explains Michael Witzel, a scholar of Sanskrit and ancient mythology at Harvard University. “Use words they shouldn’t use…Take away cattle from their neighbors.” The boys could raid, steal and have their way with women. They were landless, with no possessions aside from weapons. And they symbolically became dogs or wolves by assuming canid names, wearing skins and sometimes eating the animals.

“Anthony and Brown propose that Krasnosamarskoe was the place where Srubnaya boys went to become dogs, to become men. According to Witzel, “their evidence fits quite nicely,” with the ancient texts. Regarding the dog remains, archaeologist Paula Wapnish-Hesse, says, they “present a pretty good range of arguments that are traditionally used for identifying ritual in animal bone collections.” An expert in ancient texts and animal bones, Wapnish-Hesse has analyzed the largest known dog cemetery, comprising more than 1,000 skeletons of mostly puppies, buried some 2,500 years ago at the site of Ashkelon, Israel. Their attempt to extrapolate myths to a culture without written texts, is “a very ambitious bite,” she adds. “They’re going out on a limb and it’s good.”

“However, some scholars disagree with the views that the Srubnaya culture belonged to Indo-European traditions, and that Indo-Europeans originated in the steppe. The main alternative hypothesis is that these cultures descend from early farmers of Anatolia, in present-day Turkey. To this objection, Anthony and Brown respond, in the article, that Indo-European languages were spoken across much of Bronze Age Eurasia in this period and “therefore are ‘on the table’ as possible sources of information.”

Sweet Pork and Rich Cheese Fixtures of Stonehenge Workers’ Feasts 4,500 Years Ago

Robin McKie wrote in The Guardian: Roast sweetened pork consumed with a range of rich dairy products including cheese and butter appear to have been commonplace at feasts according to an English Heritage exhibition, Feeding Stonehenge which opened at the Stonehenge visitor centre in October 2017. This conclusion was drawn from excavations at Durrington Walls, where the builders of Stonehenge lived 4,500 years ago said curator Susan Greaney. [Source: Robin McKie, The Guardian, October 15, 2017]

“When we dug at Durrington Walls we found pits and middens filled with bits of pottery and bones of animals left over from feasts,” said Stonehenge researcher Professor Oliver Craig, of York University. “These have provided an immense amount of information.” From the pot fragments, scientists were able to pinpoint fats, waxes and oils from the food cooked in these vessels. These fats, which seeped into the pottery and collected in pores, can now be analysed by a technique known as lipid analysis.

“We found the larger pots contained mainly pork,” said Craig. “However, smaller pots — which were found at different parts of the Durrington Walls site — contained dairy products. We think these milk-based foodstuffs had special significance. They may have been associated with purity or fertility, for example, and were consumed in a special area.” The presence of dairy food poses a puzzle, however. Genetic evidence indicates that Britons at this time were lactose intolerant. Drinking milk would have made them ill. Yet dairy foods appear to have had widespread use. This has led Craig and other scientists to argue that cow’s milk would not have been consumed directly but would have been turned into cheese and yoghurt — which would not have triggered lactose intolerance reactions.

As to the meat that was consumed, by far the most popular animal was the pig. “There are bits of pig skeleton, dated from this period, all over the place,” said Greaney. “And when you look at the teeth of these animals, it is noticeable that there are strong signs of decay — which suggests they were being fattened up on fairly sweet diets, possibly using honey. So honey-sweetened pork could well have been on the menu at these feasts.” All the signs point to the fact that Stonehenge and Durrington Walls were associated with some very lavish celebrations. For example, at most other archaeological sites where animal bones have been left behind after being eaten, very little is left unconsumed. This was not the case at Durrington Walls where half-eaten chops were left discarded in many places. “This could have been the country’s first throw-away culture,” said Greaney. This point was backed by Craig. “People were killing animals, stringing them up and eating them on a massive scale,” he said. “It must have been quite a show.”

However, this high protein intake of meat and cheeses was probably not typical of average Stone Age meals, he added. “I think people in those days would also have been eating vegetables and fruit but not here. Pork and beef and cheese — that was special festive fare — and that is what was consumed at Stonehenge.”

But the identity of any beverages that were consumed remains a mystery. “People always ask me: were our forebears consuming wine or beer or some other kind of alcoholic drink?” said Craig. “The answer is that we do not know. They may well have been, but we do not have the techniques or the evidence yet to say what that drink might be.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2024

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