Many of us in recent years have heard of the Paleo diet. It’s an alluring concept that appeals to our primal instincts. But what did Stone Age people really eat?
The stereotype of meat, meat and more meat is, essentially, true. Red meat and berries is what proponents of the Paleo diet are quick to announce. However, the type of meat that a Stone Age person would eat depends entirely on the location.
Research has shown that those living in Northern Europe mostly ate fish. In inland Europe, where bison and mammoth reigned, red meat was more prevalent. And, further up in the Arctic, fatty meats like seal and whale comprised the largest part of people’s intake.
Stone Age people also ate more fruit and vegetables than one might think, although they were limited to small berries and mushrooms. Most common vegetables either didn’t exist back then, or were too tiny, bitter or poisonous to eat — like wild lettuce, which contained too much latex to be edible, or almonds, which contained cyanide. An easy way to wow a Stone Age beforeigner during dinner is to serve a platter of plump, modern vegetables like carrots and broccoli (both of which are human inventions).
Grains, legumes or dairy products would have been off the menu in ancient times, since this was a world before agriculture. Having said this, towards the end of the Neolithic period, early man began to settle down and did start producing the world’s first cultivated grain, einkorn.
As for how healthy our ancestors were, well — many paleolithic human remains show signs of intestinal parasites and dental caries. Humans can’t synthesise Vitamin C like carnivores can, so being forced to adopt a meat-heavy diet through circumstance means it’s likely our ancestors ended up with some vitamin deficiencies.
If you’re having a Stone Age beforeigner over for dinner, there is no need to adhere too strictly to a paleo diet. The Stone Age diet was all about luck; about exploiting any and all resources available, so your paleolithic pal will appreciate getting to try new things. Just remember: keep it simple, go easy on the spices, and avoid sugary, processed food that might upset their stomachs.
RECIPE SUGGESTION - SERVES 4 PEOPLE
This dish was common fare for prehistoric people who lived inland near rivers and streams. It survived to modern times, and is currently still popular in Iraq, where it is called masgouf.
Catch the carp from a freshwater stream. Club it to death, then partially-scale and gut it. Cut down its back, opening it out flat so the belly is in the middle. In a separate bowl, mix the turmeric, coriander and rock salt together. Spread liberally on the carp.
From here, you impale the carp on sharp spikes or sticks, and lay it on the fire altar. Cook for a few hours, or until the fat is burned off. Once cooked, allow the fish to rest on the hot coals, skin facing down, to crisp it up nicely. Serve on its own or with whatever berries you can find as a garnish.