Refrigeration is a relatively new phenomenon, so for millennia, humans had to discover smart approaches to preserve food. These practices slowed the increase of microorganisms that may cause foodborne ill-ness or lead meals to rot. Many preservation practices different than refrigeration — like salting, drying, smoking, pickling & fermenting — have been used for a lengthy time.
These techniques aside, how did ancient people save their leftovers?
It turns out that early hunter-gatherers had some surprisingly innovative approaches to extend the “shelf life” of their larder.
Fishing for mammoth
One fall morning in 2015, two farmers in Michigan made an sudden discovery: a pelvis bone from a mammoth. After a few cellphone calls and an excavation, a research group uncovered extra paleontological & archaeological proof that brought the scene into greater clarity.
More than 11,000 years ago, mammoth herds roamed North America. For hunter-gatherers, bringing down an animal size of an African elephant would be like winning the lottery — a prize you do not choose to lose. So, some Indigenous human beings put their mammoth leftovers into ponds to maintain it for later use.
“The pond offers a area to stash carcass parts,” Daniel Fisher, a professor and curator in the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology. “What is the alternative when there are many predators & scavengers on landscape who will gladly partake of a meal?”
The carcass was once purposely placed in one of the many small, shallow ponds that dot the postglacial landscape of the Upper Midwest. But the meat preservation wasn’t due to the water, exactly; it was once generally the difficult work of the bacteria, Lactobacilli, that live in the water.
Lactobacilli produce lactic acid, a chemical byproduct of anaerobic respiration. The bacteria colonize the meat, and the lactic acid preserves the muscle mass. Fisher additionally credited the low temperature and the low oxygen content of lake water in assisting the pre-servation process.
Fisher believes the hunt most probably happened in the autumn. Felled animals had been butchered the place they died, and massive portions had been deposited in the water in close by small ponds. The meat remained edible till the following summer. Fisher is aware of this due to the fact he has carried out experiments the usage of deer, lamb and even horse. He discovered that the meat was still edible (after cooking it first to kill any dangerous bacteria that may have taken up house in the meat), even after spending months submerged in same small, cold ponds.
“The lactic acid additionally tenderizes the meat,” Fisher said. “It does impart a strong odor & taste, like Limburger cheese. It makes an fascinating meal.”
Pass the bog butter and jam
Keeping meals cool makes sense, however now not all and sundry had a lake in their backyard. Burying meals is some other ingenious way to maintain meals fresh. Burial shields meals from sunlight, warmth and oxygen, all of which expand the rate at which meals spoils.
Bogs provide an intriguing burial option. A bog is a freshwater wetland of soft, spongy floor consisting mainly of partially decayed plant matter, known as peat. The cool, low-oxygen, relatively acidic environment is best for maintaining perishable foods.
In Northern Europe, historical civilizations would put food, consisting of butter, into the bog to preserve it. Archaeologists have pulled wads of a waxy, paraffin-like substance from the waterlogged muck. Researchers performed chemical analyses on the waxy substance & recognized it as a dairy product, giving it the enjoyable alliterative title “bog butter.”
“Within two or three years, the fats in the clean butter degrades into constituent components,” stated Jessica Smyth, an assistant professor in the University College Dublin School of Archaeology who posted a 2019 study on bog butter in the journal Nature. “You have a lump of fatty acids.”
Bogs presented early agricultural communities a way to maintain perishable foods, like dairy products, for a longer period. According to Smyth, there are ethnographic mentions of humans burying their summer season butter in bogs for storage. The curated butter is edible, however it may additionally take on the tangy flavors of the surrounding peat that is an acquired-taste.
“It is convenient to look at bog butter as an anomaly or freak event, but it was most probably a common practice,” Smyth said. “The peatlands are providing a window into prehistoric agricultural practices that have vanished from world.”