Food around 20,000 BC

The Globe

But now, with respect to the earliest employment of fire, a curious problem arises when it is realized that although the heavy­browed family of Sinanthropus crouched around its hearth as early as c. 400,000 BC and that of Neanderthal Man c. 200,000, those lusty brutes gobbled their meals of fresh meat and brains ­ whether human or animal - absolutely raw. For it was not until the period of the far more highly developed races of the temple caves, c. 30,000-10,000 BC, that the art of roasting was invented. (Primitive Mythology)



Southwest Asia

Archaeological sites throughout southwest Asia during the late Upper Pleistocene, from about 20,000 to 16,000 BC are often concentrations of stone tools, ash, and the bones of large, hoofed mammals. Almost all of the meat eaten by people came from just a few species of ungulates, mainly gazelles and wild cows. Based on the tools and other articfacts from Southwest Asian sites of this period, it appears that the basic social unit was a band of about fifteen or twenty people comprising several families who season after season moved through this area hunting animals and gathering plants. (Patterns in Prehistory)

Evidence of the ice-age lifestyle in the Levant was discovered at Ohalo in Israel in 1989, following a drastic drop in the water level of the Sea of Galilee. Excavations...revealed the remains of a camp, including six huts, a grave, a stone installation, several kinds of fireplaces and what seems to have been an area for garbage disposal. The charred remains of the huts contain a wealth of material on the floors, including flints, animal bones and burnt fruit or seeds. The hearths were placed outside the huts, and provided further valuable information. Carbon dating of these finds gives an average age of around 23 kya. All features at the site appear to belong to this one period which falls within the LGM. This was a time of plentiful rainfall, soon after the extreme drought of Heinrich event 2. The diet of the people occupying the site was extremely varied. Remains of tens of thousands of seeds and fruits of about a hundred species have been identified so far. These include many edible plant species, such as wild barley, wild wheat and acorns. Thousands of fish bones show that fish was central to the local economy. Furthermore, thousands of gazelle bones and numerous bones of fallow deer, fox, hare an other species indicate the other sources of food. Consideration of the ripening months of the recovered seeds and fruits, together with the analysis of gazelle teeth and the bones of birds, shows that the camp was used on a year-round basis. Perhaps the most important aspect of the work on this site has been the recent analysis of starch grain residues found on a grinding stone. This provides evidence of processing of wild cereal grains. Associated evidence for an oven-like hearth on the site suggests that dough was made by baking grain flour. (Climate Change in Prehistory)



Indus Valley





Mammoths, horses, and many other animals were hunted by these upper Paleolithic peoples, but the reindeer was the staff of life: at many sites 99% of all animal bones found belonged to reindeer. (Patterns in Prehistory)

One of the most amply documented Upper Paleolithic cultures in eastern Europe is the Kostenski-Bershevo culture centered in the Don River Valley, about 470 kilometers southeast of Moscow. About 25,000 to 11,000 years ago, the people of Kostenski subsisted primarily through big-game hunting, mainly of mammoths or horses, with an occasional wild cow or reindeer. (Patterns in Prehistory)

"...they're making cordage," said David Hyland, an archaeologist at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania. Cordage, essentially plant fibers twisted together, includes string and rope. The model of the Paleolithic men going off with spears to hunt while the women stayed home and gathered plants around the camp may be too simple, he said. "Maybe they killed one mammoth every ten years and never stopped talking about it," Dr. Soffer said. At the Pavlov and nearby Dolni Vestonice sites, for example, Dr. Klima unearthed far more bones of smaller animals than of mammoths. While the former may have been hunted with spears, it is more likely that nets were used to capture small animals like rabbits, the archaeologists said. "This tool," noted Dr. Hyland, of cloth, "represents a much greater level of success where used for hunting than lithic tools." (83)

The remains of more than 15 mammoths, all clearly killed by Stone Age hunters 22,000 years ago, have been discovered in Zaraysk, a small city 100 miles south of the Moscow. Over the course of 6,000 years, at least three waves of settlers made permanent homes in the dugouts of Zaraysk, coming 21,000 years ago, 18,000 years ago and 15,000 years ago, according to carbon analysis of the residue of bones, charcoal and mammoth tusks. One of the myths of mammoth extinction is that they died of the cold. Actually, the reason was far more complicated. Mammoths did not migrate seasonally because cold weather never really bothered them. They preferred to live near the Ice Age glacier that then dominated the continent. But they needed dry weather. "High humidity and dampness is what killed them," said Lyudmila Grekhova, a senior archaeologist at the Russian State Historical Museum in Moscow, who was one of the early researchers on the Zaraysk site. "When their thick furry hair got wet and then turned to ice they would die." (85)

Undeniably, the hunting of big game – megafauna – made a significant contribution to the subsistence of Upper Paleolithic people. In central and eastern Europe, for example, sites dating between 28,000 BP and 10,000 BP reflect the major role of the wooly mammoth in the subsistence base of Upper Paleolithic people. Portrayals of ancient hunters fighting a daily duel to the death with huge, aggressive beasts may offer us a romantic image, but it seems an unlikely strategy for survival. It is far more likely that the people of the Upper Paleolithic subsisted on a broad spectrum of foods, including the meat from animals both large and small, birds, fish, seeds, nuts, berries, and starchy roots. Archaeological evidence is finally beginning to support this sensible reconstruction. (The Past in Perspective)

South America




North America