Thinking about the Stone Age as a real period of time can feel almost surreal. It was so long ago that it doesn’t even seem like it happened at all. But the Stone Age definitely occurred, and for a very long time. It began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 3,300 B.C., meaning it ended about 5,000 years ago. The time is defined as “a period of prehistory in which humans used primitive stone tools.” It didn’t end until people started working with metal and bronze.
This was a time when the Earth was still in the Ice Age, and when animals that now sound like mythical creatures still walked the planet: saber-toothed tigers, mastodons, giant ground sloths, and wooly mammoths, just to name a few. The time period sounds like something out of a movie. It makes you wonder — if they were using stones for basically everything, then what were they eating? And how were they eating? It definitely has to be incredibly different from what we’re used to today.
Researchers and scientists might not know every detail about the Stone Age and the eating habits of the time, but due to lots of research and evidence, they’ve uncovered some pretty interesting facts.
The people of the Stone Age were hunter-gatherers.
That basically means that they foraged and hunted for their food, eating whatever edible things they could find around them. That also means that wherever food went, they went — which explains their seasonal travels and nomadic lifestyles. Definitely something we’re grateful we don’t have to do now. Thank you, grocery stores!
During the Stone Age, people used clay pots to cook their food.
In addition to cooking their food in these clay pots, they also used them to store food and other items in the kitchen. And remember — there were no factories producing these pots for them. Everything had to be made by hand, and as a result, everything was utilized and not sitting out, collecting dust.
The oldest pottery found so far was discovered at an archaeological site in China and is believed to be 20,000 years old.
It was fragments of pottery that could have been used for food production. “Now we can explore why there was pottery in that particular time, what were the uses of the vessels, and what role they played in the survival of human beings,” Wu Xiaohong, professor of archaeology and museology at Peking University, told The Associated Press, according to The Guardian.
Still, they didn’t cook their food like we do today.
Studies found that their teeth were very strong, showing they ate “coarse” food. And as a result, many think this means they were barely cooking or preparing their food, so everything was fresh and straight from the earth. Talk about an organic, all-natural, unprocessed diet containing now preservatives or nasty pesticides.
Archaeologists don’t know when people started actually cooking their meat, since they haven’t found that evidence yet.
They do believe cooking food is what helped man develop the larger brains we have today, though. And when they did start cooking, methods probably involved things like plant leaves, grass, and stones, as well as hot rocks over an open fire. There was no going to Bed Bath & Beyond for a KitchenAid that matches the rest of your decor.
Stone Age food was different depending on where the people lived.
In general, though, they ate a lot of protein and a lot less carbs than we do today. Still, Stone Age people didn’t show signs of cardiovascular disease, leading researchers to believe that they still had a balanced blend of fatty acids. It probably helped that all of their food was unprocessed.
They also didn’t avoid carbs completely.
Studies have shown that they did eat starchy foods, because they, of course, would literally eat whatever they would be able to find. (Been there.) Most people got their starch fix from grains, nuts, and sea beets. There is even evidence that they snacked on acorns and pine nuts.
When it came to meat, scientists believe that Neanderthals liked to hunt and eat large plant eaters like mammoths and rhinoceroses.
Later hunter-gathers who lived in nomadic tribes probably ate things like bison, mammoth, wild boar, deer, and grey seals. Evidence also shows that they liked to eat snails. There is even evidence that they enjoyed roasted tortoise meat. Again, they were basically eating whatever they could get their hands on.
Researchers believe that they cooked this meat by boiling and/or roasting it in clay pots near fires both inside and outside.
There were no fancy pans or meat thermometers or high-powered stoves to help them out. I mean, imagine how long it must have taken to cook their meat? If it was even cooked at all? There are a lot of variables there that, fortunately, none of us have to deal with today.
Not everyone ate dairy.
In fact, some believe dairy was only eaten during public ceremonies. This actually reminds us of how we consume dairy today. Now, a lot of people don’t eat dairy and rely on alternatives. Just think of all the different nut milks out there — oat, almond, pistachio, cashew, and so many more. #relatable
Fish was also eaten depending on where they were located.
Archaeologists in Alaska found that Paleoindians cooked and ate chum salmon. Since many of the people from the Stone Age seemed to have good calcium, researchers believe that came from eating shellfish. In fact, according to Science, America’s first fisherman caught Alaskan salmon 11,500 years ago.
Again, grains were actually part of their diet.
Scientists believe that the world’s oldest flour was made from oat about 32,000 years ago, based on Paleolithic stone tools found in a cave in Italy. They believe those who used the tool were eating things like acorns, millet, and wild oats, and that the tool was basically like an ancient mortar and pestle.
In Southwest Europe, people grew their own crops.
These crops included, but were not limited to, lentils, chickpeas, peas, and flax. They also probably ate wheat and naked barley. A lot of the same things we eat today — though ours gets processed and packaged before making its way to our hungry stomachs. Maybe this can serve as inspiration for us to start our own gardens?
There is evidence that they even seasoned their meat and fish.
They used seasonings such as garlic, mustard seeds, coriander, turmeric, and capers. And just imagine how fresh these all were! However, they probably didn’t have these all arranged in nice little containers, so there was no need for a chaotic spice drawer that needs constant organizing.
They also took a gamble and ate wild plants.
This included lilies and onions. These plants would have had to be roasted in order to make them okay to eat. But there was no way to be sure that their food wasn’t contaminated or, even worse, poisonous. Unlike today, there were no books on the subject. They had to learn as they went along.
There was no such thing as sugar back in the Stone Age.
But, there were bees — and so there was honey to offer them some sweetness. Caves showed painted images of people carrying honeycomb, leading researchers to believe they were using the natural sweetener to adjust their food and satisfy their sweet tooth.
Surprise, surprise! Even the people of the Stone Age enjoyed beer.
Researchers believe it was part of the “daily diet” for everyone. However, this isn’t the beer you like to sip on now. It would have been more similar to gruel. Nice? And according to Ancientcraft, “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 vegetables during the Stone Age were quite different, and nothing like what they are today.
According to National Geographic, tomatoes were small like berries, potatoes were the size of peanuts, corn was a “wild grass,” cucumbers were spiny, lettuce was bitter, peas were extremely starchy, sea kale was the only “green,” and carrots were “scrawny.” They were nothing like the genetically-modified foods we consume today.
They did have some fruits that are similar to what we have today, though.
This included apples, grapes, figs, plums, and pears. They just looked different back then — as in, they probably weren’t as large, juicy, and shiny. Plus, they probably didn’t last as long as they do today, since there were no man-made preservatives keeping them fresh for as long as possible.
Again, food varied by location and the exact time period.
Palaeolithic people are said to have eaten a diet high in meat, fish, and shellfish. They also ate leafy vegetables, fruits, nuts, and insects. Everything was pretty much seasonal, which isn’t much different from how we operate today. After all, you wouldn’t exactly eat a pumpkin pie in the middle of the summer, would you?
Neolithic people lived in a warmer climate, so they had more seafood.
This included things like limpets, periwinkles, mollusks, and crustaceans, and goes to show just how much climate and location influenced every aspect of their lives. This doesn’t affect us as much today, since we have methods to transport and grow food no matter where we live or what the weather is like.
They would also eat hunted meat, edible plants, nuts, berries, and fruits.
This was before they made the transition to farming, so everything they ate was something they had to hunt down and gather. In other words, in order to eat, they had to be nomadic, going wherever there was enough food for them to eat. This explains why agriculture was such an important method of creating sustenance, since it allowed people to settle down.
Neolithic people were farmers who often dealt with catastrophes.
Without pesticides and modern technology to give them a certain protection, Neolithic farmers had to deal with droughts, pests, and unexpected weather changes. This would greatly affect their crops and how much they were able to produce, according to The Guardian. This would explain why early farmers worked hard to control their environments.
Recipes were obviously not kept back in the Stone Age.
Stone Age foodies ate fancier stuff than you do! Scientists analyzing ancient food gunk discover people 6,000 years ago had rather sophisticated recipes.— Bonnie Burton✍️ (@bonniegrrl) December 2, 2018
Read more in my @CNET article here: https://t.co/PvgfRnQoIZ pic.twitter.com/slhs1VbX4X
However, that hasn’t stopped researchers from putting together some they believe were popular. They did so using artifacts and knowledge about the different types of environments these people were living in. Remember when we discussed oat flour earlier, and how researchers were led to this discovery based on the stone tool they found in Italy?
Oat flat bread was probably popular.
It’s a very simple, plain, heated grain in the shape of flat bread. “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),” explains Ancientcraft.
Acorn bread was another starchy option.
Many believe Stone Age people loved to roast and eat acorns, along with many other nutritious nuts, which were a source of carbs and protein. However, since acorns tend to be bitter, they had to be prepared a certain way to prevent them from making your mouth pucker. Just goes to show how important the cooking process can be.
Nettle pudding was another recipe made from picked nettles.
It’s believed to be from around 6,000 B.C. Nettles, in case you’re unfamiliar, are a herbaceous plant that apparently tastes just like spinach. However, according to Off The Grid News, you should prepare them a certain way: “Once the leaves of a stinging nettle have been exposed to hot liquid for a couple of minutes or finely chopped in a food processor, the needles and stinging chemicals are neutralized and they’re safe to eat.”
If this all sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that.
Today, the way people ate in the Stone Age is considered a trendy diet: the Paleo diet, or the Stone Age diet. The Paleo Diet generally consists of meat, eggs, insects, seafood, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, and only natural sugars.
Paleo dieters generally avoid things like grains and flour, legumes, root vegetables that can’t be eaten raw, refined sugars, yeast, juices, soda, coffee, alcohol, dairy products, processed meats, and salt.
As you can see, this isn’t all exactly in line with what people in the Stone Age were actually eating. But it is close! And fortunately for the people of that time, they didn’t have to worry about trendy diets being promoted on Instagram. We certainly envy them in that respect.
Since the people of the Stone Age were believed to be pretty healthy, this doesn’t sound like a bad way to eat.
So, as it turns out, maybe we’re not all quite as different from the hunter-gatherers as we thought we were. We eat a lot of the same stuff, but are separately by technology, chemicals, and food production, which has greatly affected what we have access to. It has also affected our health, and how human bodies have changed over time. Good to know!