Ingredients & Diet

  • Palaeolithic: Much of this diet would have consisted of meat (including marrow and animal organs like the liver, kidneys and brains that are extremely rich sources of nutrition), fish and shellfish. Leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts and insects making up the remaining part of their diet. However food source was very seasonal and early man was nomadic.
  • Mesolithic: Humans enjoyed a warmer climate and a greater range of food, including seafood (such as limpets, periwinkles, and numerous other types of molluscs and crustaceans) supplemented with wild boar and deer, along with any edible plants like apples, nuts and berries. However people also started the transition farming and began to to domesticate animals, such as dogs, possibly for hunting.
  • Neolithic: Farmers produced a surplus of food, meaning they could share with other people in their community. This surplus of food meant that not everyone had to farm, so people began to specialise in skills other than farming. However farming took about 2,000 years to spread across all parts of the British Isles. The domestication of other animals (sheep, goats and pigs) took place sometime between the late Mesolithic and early Neolithic.

In general Stone Age people consumed more protein and ate less carbohydrate than most humans do today, with fat intake probably about the same level; although this was a balanced blend of fatty acids (Omega-3:Omega-6) and relatively high levels of MUFA and PUFA, rather than today's focus on Omega-6, consequently Stone Age people were mainly free of the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Starch came from sources including grain, nuts and sea beet (the ancestor of beetroot and sugar beet) and evidence from Grotte des Pigeons cave in northern Morocco, indicates that extensive snacking on acorns and pine nuts may have led to some tooth decay.

Ötzi the Iceman

Probably the best example of prehistoric food is that belonging to the 5,300 year old Ötzi the Iceman found in the Alps in 1991. Investigation of the diet of the Tyrolean Iceman reveals that his last two meals included grain, herbs and meat - specifically red deer (Cervus elaphus) and ibex (Capra ibex). Analyses of the chemicals in Ötzi's hair suggests that meat may have made up between 10%-30% of the Iceman's diet. The grain from both meals was a highly processed einkorn wheat bran, possibly eaten in the form of fire-cooked flatbread.

Found near Ötzi's body were chaff and grains of einkorn and barley and also seeds of flax and poppy, as well as kernels of sloes (small plumlike fruits of the blackthorn tree) and various seeds of berries growing in the wild. Charcoal particles were also found in his intestine, indicating that his meal had been cooked on an open fire.

Meat

Scientists from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (HEP) in Tübingen have investigated the diet of Neanderthals from their bones recovered in two excavation sites in Belgium. By studying the isotope composition in the collagen, it was shown that the Neanderthals' diet consisted primarily of large plant eaters such at mammoths and rhinoceroses, however the result also concluded that around 20% of their diet was plant matter.

Later hunter-gatherers lived in nomadic tribes that hunted animals like bisonmammoth, wild boar, horse and red and roe deer, grey seals. Wild animal species (such as wild boar and horse) were leaner compared to their modern-day domesticated equivalents, so much of the fat the Stone Age people ate came from marine mammals, fatty fish and nuts.

Snails where consumed at least 150,000 years ago, with evidence from the Haua Fteah cave (Libya) that indicates early humans used stone ‘drills’ or thorns to extract the molluscs from their shells. In a high status grave site of a 12,000 year-old Natufian Shaman found in a cave in Northern Israel, was the remains of roasted tortoise meat, thought to be eaten by the tribe as part of a burial ceremony.

Analysis pottery and middens found at Durrington Walls (a late Neolithic settlement site thought to be the residence for the builders of nearby Stonehenge 25 BC) reveal their eating habits with organised feasts of roasted of pigs and cattle. Livestock (often under-weight) came from various locations and were slaughtered and butchered on site. The main methods of cooking meat are believed to be boiling and roasting in pots probably around indoor hearths and outdoor pits. Ceremonial areas showed that dairy produce (milk, yoghurt and cheese) were only consumed by a select individuals and possibly used in public ceremonies. There was little evidence of plant-based food preparation during feasts or ceremonies.

Fish

Alaskan archaeologists have found the earliest known evidence that Paleoindians cooked and ate chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) at least 11,500 years ago. The fish remains were found in an ancient cooking hearth in a residential structure at the Upward Sun River site near the Tanana River located east of Fairbanks. DNA and stable isotope analysis from vertebrae bones identified them as sea-run chum salmon.

Researchers analysed carbon isotope ratios in the bones of 164 Neolithic humans and compared the findings with 19 fragments of Mesolithic skeletons, to compare diets. Their conclusion was that around 5,000 years ago Britain's changed from a diet of high protein fish and shellfish and adopted a more European taste for meat and carbohydrate-rich cereals.

Cereals, Pulses and Plants

Perhaps surprisingly, it is thoughts that the world’s oldest flour was made from oat some 32,000 years ago, based on analysis of a Paleolithic stone tool found in 1989 from a cave in southeastern Italy called Grotta Paglicci. The elongated cobble of sandstone interpreted as a peste-grinder (which measures around 13cm long), is broken at one end and rounded at the other, with longitudinal fissures on its surface. It is assumed by researchers that the rounded end was used to crush seeds, while the stone’s flat surface allowed to grind the broken seeds into flour. Analysis of food materials recovered from the stone included acorns and relatives of millet and wild Avena (oat) species.

Farming during the Neolithic in Northern Europe was mostly einkorn (Triticum monococcum) and emmer (Triticum dicoccum) cereals, with wheat and naked barley (Hordeum vulgare/sativum) cultivated in Southwest Europe. People cleared large areas of wooded landed to grow their crops, which also included lentils, chickpeas, Bitter Vetch, peas, poopy and flax.

Scientists have discovered evidence that people flavored meat and fish with garlic mustard seeds  (Alliaria petiolata) around 6,000 years ago, just as farming practices were starting. Garlic mustard is a season biennial herb with stalked, triangular to heart-shaped, coarsely toothed leaves that give off a smell of garlic when crushed. Other spices, like coriander, turmeric and capers, have been found in cooking vessels across Europe from about 4,000 to 5,000 years ago, when people in Europe were already adopting agricultural practices.

Meadowlands and forest edges were filled with many edible wild plants, such as lilies and onions. The bulbs of these plants are very nutritious, but their energy is locked up in a dense, indigestible carbohydrate called inulin. The only way to make the bulbs digestible is to roast them for two days or longer.

Honey

Cave of the Spider / Spider Caves (Cueve de la Arana) is situated on the river Cazunta, around 10km from the municipality of Bicorp in Valencian Community, eastern Spain. The caves were discovered around 1920 by a local teacher, Jaime Garí i Poch.

A human figure, the so-called 'Man/Womanx of Bicorp' is near a natural cavity where there is the nest of bees. Hanging on three lianas (thin vines or ropes probably made of esparto grass which grows abundantly in the area) he/she is picking up honeycombs, while nearby are some stylised bees. Slung over his/her shoulder is a basket or gourd to harvest the honey.

At the bottom of the rope is another figure carrying a basket on their back. The cave is also known for painted images of a bow and arrow goat hunt. The paintings are believed to be 6,000 - 10,000 years old and date back to the end of the Paleolithic Period.

( Utilisateur:Achillea - Public Domain ) >  

Beer

Beer is considered by some as the most important of human inventions, as it is likely to be one of the key reasons that farming was started, in order to grow hops for brewing. Beer would have been part of the daily diet for all members of the family and would have been more of a gruel, rather than frothy golden brown liquid.

Archeological evidence from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology shows that the world’s earliest known alcoholic drink came from China’s Yellow River Valley and brewed around 9,000 years ago, where pottery jars were shown to contain a mixed drink of rice, honey and grape/hawthorn tree fruit. The oldest known barley beer comes from Iran’s Zagros Mountains and dates to 3,400 BC.

Evidence suggests that although wine making might have originated during the Paleolithic, when early humans drank the juice of naturally fermented wild grapes during Autumn when the grapes ripe, the oldest known grape wine comes from a Neolithic settlement in Iran’s Zagros mountains, Hajji Firuz Tepe, dated to around 5,400 BC.

Food Preparation & Cooking

It is generally thought that Homo Habilis was the first of our ancestors to eat meat and before then, it is assumed meat was eaten raw. Analysis of 13 teeth found in 2000 at Qesem Cave (20 km east of Tel Aviv) reveals that the Hominids who inhabited the cave from around 400,000 to 200,000 years ago, put the food in their mouth, then pulled at it with one hand and cut it with a flint tool in the other hand. Many small scratches seen on the teeth are believed to be marks accidentally left by flint blades. The teeth also showed extensive wear, suggesting theirs was a very abrasive diet that required a lot of chewing.

When early man learned to control fire, cooking on open fires was eventually developed - probably by accident. Evidence for when cooking meat started has not yet been found, however archaeologists working in places such as Swartkrans (South Africa) are searching for evidence to show that this was possibly one million years ago. They are hoping to find animal bone with butchery marks that has also been burnt, indicating that cooking of meat took place by Homo Erectus (who had a 20% larger brain and smaller teeth with sharp points and thinner enamel).

Cooking food may have had a very significant impact on prehistoric man and some scientists even believe that cooking actually helped man develop the large brain that we have today. Cooking food significant increases the amount of energy that can be absorbed into the body and also reduces the diseases in raw meat. This means that food can be processed much more efficiently in the gut and so allowed extra energy to be used to develop the brain.

The open fires were probably made in shallow pits to conserve the heat and protect from the wind. Cooking methods probably used easy to obtain items such as plant leaves, grass and stones. It is believed that cooking on hot rocks first became a substitute for cooking on open fires about 9,000 to 10,500 years ago. This was partly for the exploitation of new food resources and also that cooking over a hot open fire, meant regular tending the fire pit. By adding large rocks to the fire however, meant they would gradually warm up and then hold heat for 48 hours or longer, conserving both fuel and human energy.

Pottery

The earliest forms of pottery were made from clays that were fired at low temperatures in pit-fires or in open bonfires. They were hand formed and undecorated and likely used for cooking food.

The oldest known pottery fragments that have been radiocarbon dates to 19,200-20,900 cal BP years ago and were found in Jiangxi province’s Xianrendong cave (south China) which was excavated in the 1960's and again in the 1990's. These pots were bag-shaped and coarse-pasted, made of local clay with inclusions of quartz and feldspar.

As pottery was invented, cooking became easier as it allowed for liquids to boiled over a fire, so that stews, puddings and soups could be made. During the Middle Palaeolithic people began smoking and drying meat to preserve and store it.

 

neolithic pottery

Middens

Evidence of Stone Age food and ingredients often comes from "middens" - the term for a pit or dump of domestic waste. Microscopic examination of the middens provides valuable evidence of what people ate. Middens may be single-use pit created by nomadic groups or long-term dumps used by sedentary communities that accumulate waste over many generations. Damp, anaerobic conditions can preserve organic remains and middens may contain animal/fish bone, shells, plant material, human excrement, posherds, lithics and other materials associated with human occupation. Well-known Stone Age midden site in Britain include:


Recipes

Obviously as no Prehistoric Recipe Book exists, ingredients and cooking methods are based on research, experimentation and some guesswork. A research team, commissioned by UKTV Food in 2007 and lead by Dr Ruth Fairchild from the Food Science Department of the University of Wales Institute (Cardiff), spoke to food experts and experimental archaeologists, such as Jacqui Wood (below), to compile a list of Britain's oldest recipes.

Jacqui Wood's books - "Prehistoric Cooking" & "Tasting the Past" and Jane Renfrew's "Prehistoric Cookery: Recipes & History"

(© Chris Saville  - with kind permission)

NOTE: RECIPES ARE FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY ~ NOT INTENDED AS CULINARY GUIDANCE

Oat Flat Bread

Traces of starchy grains found on the 32,000 year old stone tool in an Italian cave called Grotta Paglicci, suggests the oats were mashed them into a flour-like consistency. Because the gains were gelatinised and swollen, researchers believe they may have been heated before grinding and stirred into water and cooked (gelatinisation occurs when flour or oats are mixed with liquid and warmed, causing the starch to explode and absorb the moisture, turning it into a jelly).

Ingredients:

  • 1kg Oat flour
  • 600mls Water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Optional: flavour with herbs

Method:

  1. Grind oats into flour
  2. Mix the Oat flour, water and salt together
  3. Shape into fist-sized patties
  4. Bake in ashes of fire or on flat hot stones until firm

 


Acorn bread

Mesolithic people roasted and ate many nuts, including acorn, because they are very nutritious and contain carbohydrate and some protein. However in their natural state acorns contain a lot of bitter tasting tannins - a bitter tasing astringent, which must be removed during processing.

Ingredients:

  • Acorns
  • Water
  • Berries (Blackberries or raspberries)
  • Honey

Method:

  1. Remove shells from acorns, by cracking with a heavy stone
  2. Crush or grind acorns to make flourly meal
  3. Put crushed acorns in a sacked, then place in running water for 3 days (to remove  tannins to rendered sweeter and nuttier to the taste) until water runs clear and does not taste bitter
  4. Mix acorn flour with water or berry juice
  5. Slowly add the honey into the centre and mix into the inside of the circle with fingers until all the flour is mixed and the resulting mass has a firm but malleable texture and form pancake shape with hands
  6. Bake in ashes of fire or on flat hot stones until firm

Sweet Hazelnut Bread

Hazelnuts would have been an abundant during the Mesolithic, as the bushes spread rapidly throughout Europe, possibly during meal preparation of nomadic people. They are a highly nutritious source of food that could easily be gathered in the autumn and stored for consumption through lean winter months.

Cooking Time: 5 mins each side
Ingredients:

  • 700g wheat flour
  • 50-100g hazelnuts depending on taste, roughly chopped
  • 200-300g honey to mix
  • Large pinch of salt
hazelnuts

Method:

  1. Mix the flour, hazelnuts and salt together and shape into a corona.
  2. Slowly add the honey into the centre and mix into the inside of the circle with fingers until all the flour is mixed and the resulting mass has a firm but malleable texture
  3. Shape into fist-sized patties
  4. Bake in ashes of fire or on flat hot stones until firm

Nettle Pudding

From about 6,000BC. Start by picking the nettles, carefully, using only the small, young ones, as they grow more bitter with age. Wash the nettles one by one, to remove soil and insects (note: Acetylcholine and histamine are the primary nettle toxins; the latter causes dermal vesiculation. Formic acid was formerly thought to cause the persistent stinging action but it is now only associated with the initial pain at contact).

Cooking Time: 10-15 mins
Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch of sorrel
  • 1 bunch of watercress
  • 1 bunch of dandelion leaves
  • 2 bunches of young nettle leaves
  • Some chives
  • 1 cup of barley flour
  • 1 tsp salt
nettle

Method:

  1. Chop the herbs finely and mix in the barley flour and salt
  2. Add enough water to bind it together and place in the centre of a linen or muslin cloth
  3. Tie the cloth securely and add to a pot of simmering venison or wild boar
  4. Leave in the pot until the meat is cooked
  5. Serve with chunks of barley bread

Alternative Method:

  • ½ a basket of nettles (approx 250g)
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • 50g butter
  • 2-3 handfuls of oatmeal
  • 1 tsp salt

For more information on nettles visit >> Click here


Wild Boar, Scallop & Mushroom (Kebabs)

This Paleolithic recipe reflects hunted and gathered food, cooked in a very simple way. Cooking on sticks was a method of cooking used long before cooking pots had been developed. The food would have been roasted close to, but not in, the fire. A stick grid could be made to lay food on or the food could simply be threaded onto sticks like modern-day kebabs

Ingredients:

  • 1 (approx 450g) wild boar loin joint
  • 6-8 scallops
  • 3-4 oyster mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon honey, preferably runny
wild boar

Method:

  1. Lift the scallops from their shells. They are attached by a little 'foot', just pull this away
  2. Rinse the scallops thoroughly to remove any sand and leave to drain
  3. Cut the Wild Boar (Sus scrofa) meat into large chunks
  4. Rinse the mushrooms and leave to drain
  5. Thread the pork, mushrooms and scallops onto the skewers
  6. Grill near the fire, turning regularly
  7. When they are almost cooked, pour a little runny honey over them

For more information about wild boars in the UK>> click here


Neanderthal Stew

Based on a recipe in the 1986 novel "The Clan of the Cave Bear" (pages 81 and 82)

Ingredients:

  • Bison
  • Onion
  • Various herbs
  • Thistle stalks
  • Mushrooms
  • Watercress
  • Yams
  • Cranberries
  • "wilted flowers from previous days growth of day lilies for thickening"
clan of the cave bear

Method:

  1. Add meat first, then potatoes (if used)
  2. Add remaining ingredients (as they do not take as long to cook)
  3. Salt and pepper to taste

"Ayla was slicing pieces of yam to put into a skin pot that was boiling over a cooking fire"Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel (page 140)

To read about Eric Pettifor's experiments with cooking in a leather pot >> click here


Anglesey "Witches" Stew

The Neolithic tomb at Barclodiad Y Gawres (Welsh for 'apronful of the giantess') on Anglesey's southwestern coastline dates from around 2,500 - 3,000 BC and is believed to be a public grave for the local farming community. During the excavation of two male burials in one chamber, evidence of a hearth was discovered in a central area. Over the fire the remains of a strange "witches" stew was identified - whether this stew was actually eaten or used as part of a ritual ceremony is unknown.

Ingredients:

  • Wrasse
  • Eel
  • Frog
  • Toad
  • Grass-snake
  • Mouse
  • Shrew
  • Hare
  • Limpet shells and beach pebbles to cover the stew

 


Ancient Beer


Ingredients:

In pot one:

  • 500 g (dry weight) pulverized sprouted barley gruel
  • 1 biscuit (~200 g dry weight) sprouted wheat or spelt bread
  • 2 ltrs of the last barley rinse water
  • 200 g cracked winter wheat

In pot two:

  • 2 biscuits (~250 g dry weight) sprouted barley bread
  • 100 g unsprouted barley, crushed
  • 200 g unsprouted spelt, crushed
  • 2.5 ltrs  cold water

Sumerian beer recipe

6,000 year old Sumerian beer recipe

(image provenance / © unknown)

Method:

  1. Thoroughly break up the biscuits and allow them to soak.
  2. While the first pot soaks at room temperature, slowly heat the second pot to boiling. Once it has reached boiling, mix the contents of the two pots, and slowly bring the temperature back to boiling.
  3. With a wooden spoon, push the mash to one side of the pot and collect the liquid (plus any grain that happens to be floating around) with a cup and transfer it to another pot.
  4. Add 1 litre of boiling water to the mash, stir and repeat the pressing procedure.
  5. Repeat this until you have collected several litres of brown, gravy-like liquid, along with some grains
  6. Bring the liquid to a boil to sterilise it, cool and pitch with your favorite wild yeast.

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