Prehistoric people had to search for and scratch every poor calorie. They often risked their lives to bring dinner home. Given the scarcity of old food sources and the dangers of trying to get them, it is not surprising that so many people are plump these days.
The “paleo diet” is a trend-prescribed solution. But actual old diets were a lot stranger than anyone thinks.
10 of the most interesting old foods
10th Dog stew
Coprolites are petrified shit that reveal a lot about our ancestors’ diet. An ancient feces from the Hinds Cave in Texas contains a surprising treat: a 9,400-year-old fragment from the skull of a domesticated dog.
Dogs have offered us companionship and guardianship for thousands of years. And now they seem to have (involuntarily) offered us a source of food. DNA analysis showed that the skull fragment came from a domesticated dog and not from a wild canid like a coyote or a fox.
The dog resembled a short-nosed Indian dog that lived in New Mexico. It probably weighed approximately 13.6 kilograms, which would have been a significant meal 10,000 years ago.
But dogs were probably not an everyday dish. Based on ethnographic evidence, prehistoric people only ate dogs during famines or festive celebrations. The preferred cooking method? A hearty dog stew.
9 Fish fermented in pine bark and boar skin
Herringbones dissolve into nothing much faster than the particularly robust bones of land animals. As a result, it is more difficult to trace seafood eating habits in time. But a 9,200-year-old Swedish discovery defies this trend, although you’d wish it wasn’t because it’s a sucker.
At one site in Blekinge, Sweden, researchers found an amazing number of fish bones – 30,000 bones per square meter2nd). It perpetuates a Nordic strategy to take advantage of the cold environment and achieve what is arguably the worst fermentation method ever developed.
First they dug a pit. Next, they filled seal and boar skins with a bunch of fish. Then they struck the mess in pine bark and sealed fat. In the end, they buried the stinking bag of fish rot because people had to get creative without modern preservatives.
This is rough even for Nordic food standards that have a notorious amount of fermented, sometimes unidentifiable marine life. However, the discovery of a mass fermentation site shows an insightful old social trend: people in the north began to settle around the same time as people in the Fertile Crescent.
8th Crocodile and hippo
We like to think that we have developed further Homo Sapien Brain by eating flame-fried mammoth steaks. However, it is just as likely that the slimy meat of turtles, crocodiles and hippos provided the vital nutrients and high-calorie fats needed for massive brain growth.
A Kenyan site where our ancestors lived 1.95 million years ago is so well preserved that researchers can recreate the ancient environment. The abundance of extinct plant fossils paints a picture of a much wetter, swampier north of Kenya.
The researchers found further evidence in the teeth of the animals slaughtered two million years ago. Her teeth contained traces of microscopic plants, which meant that our ancestors enjoyed the finest grass-fed meat.
Meat that they ate raw. However, targeting swamp creatures was a strategic step. Swamps were an underestimated hunting ground, safer than the hostile meadows and savannahs where large cat killers and snappy hyenas lived.
7 Animal gastric contents
Our ancestors routinely ate bad things out of necessity. You can’t be picky if you don’t know when (or if) your next meal will come. But one of the worst of the bad ones may be chyme, the partially digested stomach content of animals.
Some researchers believe this is based on microscopic remains found in 50,000-year-old Neanderthal plaque. Pieces of yarrow and chamomile were found in it, both of which are bitter.
The researchers suggested that these plants got into the gut of the old hominids in an unworthy way: through the stomach contents of animals. Once killed, why should you be wasteful and throw away the stomach (or other organs)? It is a convenient source of extra calories.
Some cultures still maintain a similar culinary tradition. Inuit in Greenland consume reindeer stomachs as an occasional delicacy, while indigenous Australians occasionally go into town with kangaroo chymus.
Flour is said to be a food that was invented to feed expanding civilizations in the agricultural age. But it dates back at least 32,000 years.
Grinding plant material is a simple but clever culinary strategy that delivers heartier, less perishable foods. In Puglia, Italy, at the Grotta Paglicci cave, the Paleolithic Gravettes did just that and prevented farming practices for thousands of years.
The Gravettian people painted a common cave wall and developed a lot of tools. One of these tools is a combined pestle and grinder, a hand-sized stone with a pointed end and a flat end.
The pointed end was used to break up seeds and the flat end ground them. When researchers sprayed the tool and scanned the residues, they found starches from wild oats, prehistoric millet and acorns.
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5 Deep sea fish (tuna)
If we imagine people 50,000 years ago, we see people crowding around lean campfires in lousy little caves.
But these people were already on the deep sea. They used their advanced maritime skills to reach Australia and, more importantly, to eat well. And they ate well and ate fish that is now sold for thousands of dollars.
An animal shelter in Jerimalai, East Timor, unveiled a bonus of 42,000-year-old fish bones. And not just a few bones, but 38,000. It was even more surprising that more than half of the bones belonged to pelagic species living in the deep sea, such as parrotfish and tuna.
The researchers also found two fish hooks carved out of shells. The oldest was between 16,000 and 23,000 years old. Given that the oldest fish hook discovered previously was about 5,500 years old, the discoveries in Jerimalai disrupted the Pescatarian timeline.
Since tuna was too manoeuvrable for spearfishing, our ancestors had to raft into the ocean and catch it with nets or handmade hooks, spiced up versions of those discovered at the shelter.
Meat was difficult to find. What did our 10,000-year-old ancestors do when carcasses ran out? They took a very un-Paleo approach: they mixed all the strengths they could find and cooked them to a pre-cultural porridge.
Porridge and other semi-liquid cooked foods were possible thanks to an underestimated innovation, the heat-resistant saucepan. Cooking pots that did not explode or shattered were culinary game changers for several reasons.
First, prehistoric people could now turn leftovers and other culinary trifles into a real meal. Be it soup, stew or the above mentioned porridge. Vegetable wax and oil residues were discovered in prehistoric pottery at the Takarkori and Uan Afuda sites in the Libyan Sahara.
Second, cooked plants didn’t spoil as quickly and could be saved for later. Third, plants that were too fibrous to be tasty could be softened by cooking. After all, poisonous plants could be made edible after a nice boil.
3rd Lots of roasted sweet potatoes
In the Border Cave in the Lebombo Mountains on the South African border to eSwatini, the real Paleo crammed themselves with roasted sweet potatoes more than 170,000 years ago.
These are the oldest roasted starches ever discovered. And even though the charred samples (boiled over ashes) are almost 200,000 years old, researchers armed with a scanning electron microscope were able to see their internal structures.
Like today’s sweet potatoes, this old one Hypoxis Variant could be eaten raw. But cooking made the teeth and stomach easier and released more calories.
For comparison the Hypoxis from today Hypoxis angustifoliais a very courteous meal. It provides approximately 120 calories per 100 grams, slightly more than today’s sweet potatoes and a fair amount more than today’s non-sweet potatoes.
It also grows throughout Africa all year round, making it a great food to sustain migrations through and from the continent. Hypoxis also grows in lumps and offers harvesters a great “bang for the buck”. Because of the excess plant mass in the region, the Paleo diet contained far more starch than meat.
A big game kill like a mammoth could feed a group of Neanderthals for many days. But relying solely on trophy killings was a recipe for hunger.
This is how the Neanderthals learned to build traps to catch small, flexible and abundant prey like rabbits. Researchers who searched eight Neanderthal hotspots in France 400,000 years ago found that the animal remains at many locations were 80 to 90 percent rabbits.
Some of the long bones were deliberately torn at the ends, suggesting someone was chewing the ends and sucking out the precious bone marrow inside.
The discovery shows an unexpected level of wisdom and adaptability for “cavemen”. In contrast to killing larger prey such as deer and cattle, traps or traps were required for rabbit hunting. This type of hunting was an innovation attributed to modern people. It required a sharp mind rather than a strong arm and was supposedly one of the reasons why modern humans survived the Neanderthals.
1 Juniper-roasted snail
Old people occasionally enjoyed rhinoceros steaks. But the safest survival strategy was to focus on food sources that you couldn’t get bored with. Spanish more than 30,000 years ago homo sapiens did just that. They were the first to enjoy a snobby favorite: snails.
Iberus alonensis Land snails were common during the transition period that modern humans produced between the Pleistocene (2.6 million to 12,000 years ago) and the Holocene (12,000 years ago to the present day). In the Cova de la Barriada cave in Spain, scientists found land snail remains from 30,000 years ago, 10,000 years before the earliest snail samples found in the Mediterranean.
Like a chic starter in a French restaurant, the snails were cooked over juniper embers at high heat, around 375 degrees Celsius.
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