In October, last year, Dr. Andrew McCarthy, a professor of archaeology at the University of Edinburgh, and his team unearthed a series of prehistoric barbecue pits, in the Paphos district of Cyprus. Dating back to the Pre-Pottery Neolithic era, these pits, and the artifacts found inside them, provide valuable information about the food and cooking habits of the early humans. To test these ancient culinary techniques, McCarthy and his colleagues recently recreated a prehistoric pit feast of slow-roasted pig and goat.
Among the discoveries made last year was an enormous 9,000-year-old pit oven, found at Prastio Mesorotsos, in the island’s Diarizos Valley, a site that has been home to a number of civilizations right from the Neolithic age . Measuring up to 8 feet (nearly 2.5 meters) in diameter and around 3 feet (or 1 meter) in depth, the pit was so big that it took the team three whole years of digging to reach its bottom. Lined with stones along its circumference, the ash-covered cavity was likely used for barbecuing food. Speaking about the find, McCarthy said:
I think it’s probably the closest to the theoretical maximum that a pit oven of this type could be. 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.
Before embarking on another round of excavations, this summer, the team recreated a prehistoric BBQ party, roasting large amounts of pig and goat meat in a replica fire pit dug outside a neighboring restaurant, called Extreme View Cafe. To reproduce the spirit of Stone Age revelry, the archaeologists followed the ancient methods as closely as possible. For uniform heat distribution, they chose to line the oven with big chunks of igneous rocks, which they carried from the nearby riverbeds in sacks and even a yoke built using a stick and a pair of baskets. McCarthy added:
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.
They used clay to hold the stones together, and produced their own charcoal with the help of locally-sourced lemon and carob wood. Neolithic humans were known to feed on meat, mainly pigs, goats and even deer. For their party, therefore, the archaeologists ordered a 150-lb (or 70 kg) pig and around 80-lb (nearly 38 kg) of goat meat, from a local butcher. Prehistoric feasts, of this kind, would usually be a three-day affair, the first of which would be spent warming the cold damp ground with a 24-hour-long fire. McCarthy explained:
A fire of this size sustained for three days is probably something you wouldn’t have seen all the time. 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.
A day before the festivity, the team lit the charcoals and dumped the pig, stuffed with bulgur wheat and herbs, and the chopped lamb meat, packed into tanned goat skin parcels, onto the fire. The oven was then sealed using a top layer of clay-and-mud mixture, and allowed to burn overnight. According to McCarthy, there was enough food to feed nearly 200 guests, with the leftovers lasting for up to a week. He said:
I think it was a success. It really was delicious. You could taste the lemon wood and the carob and the bay leaf. It infused into the meat… 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. The fat itself will go rancid, but the meat will not, and you can store it for up to a year.
Apart from the huge ancient roasting pit, the archaeologists also uncovered a smaller above-the-ground domed oven, which, they believe, was used for normal, everyday cooking.
Via: Live Science