It is thought that Homo Habilis was the first of our ancestors to eat meat. Homo Habilis was around 2.5 million years ago and had a 30% larger brain than previous hominids. Meat was originally eaten raw, for the obvious reason that they had no fire. It was important to find food for the development of man and generally they would eat whatever they could find.
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 1 million BP. 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.
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. Palaeothic hunter-gatherers would have had a varied diet, including meat, fish, shellfish, vegetables, nuts, insects and fruit. During the Middle Palaeolithic people began smoking and drying meat to preserve and store it.
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.
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.
Recent archeological evidence from Dr.Patrick McGovern (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology) suggests that winemaking might have originated during the Paleolithic, when early humans drank the juice of naturally fermented wild grapes from animal-skin pouches, crude wooden or stone bowls. Any Paleolithic wine made in such a way must have been limited to production during Autumn when the grapes ripe.
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. During the summer of 2005, I was able to visit South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano (Northern Italy) to see Ötzi and his artefacts for myself.
Investigation of the diet of the Tyrolean Iceman, also known as Ötzi, the well-preserved body melted out of a mountaintop glacier in Italy in September 1991, 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.
Living History - Prehistoric Food
Obviously as no "Prehistoric Recipe Book" exists, ingredients and cooking methods are based on research, experimentation and 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, to compile a list of Britain's oldest recipes - defined as meaning three or more ingredients:
As part of my Prehistoric Living History, I planning on trying a number of these different prehistic food recipes, some of which are from Jacqui Wood's books - "Prehistoric Cooking" & "Tasting the Past" and from Jane Renfrew's "Prehistoric Cookery: Recipes & History"
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