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Food in the Past

30 November 2012

An interesting little bit on how the Maya might have cooked food following the discovery of lots of small fired clay balls – see http://news.discovery.com/history/maya-clay-balls-121129.html It seems they may have placed the clay balls at the bottom of a shallow hole, built a fire on top to heat them up, waiting until the embers died down before placing whole roots, squashes, and parcels of food wrapped in leaves on the hot clay balls and covering it over, sealing the heat in until however long it took to make the food palatable.

At http://sciencenordic.com/greenlands-viking-settlers-feasted-seals-then-l… … another post on food. The long held belief that as the Greenland Vikings arrived as farmers they remained as farmers in spite of increasing cold and growing glaciers has taken a tumble. It was always a bit strange to think that people who migrated across the sea, presumably living off marine life in the process, should have had a purely land based farm orientated diet. In this story the farmers were the principle component of the settlements, being the landowners, but that does not mean they had a purely farm based diet. Ann isotopic analysis of the bones of people buried in Greenland has revealed the Viking settlers ate lots of fish – and seals (as well as other marine creatures). And why not. Modern Norwegians are famed as fishermen following the cod across the North Atlantic and even as whalers. It seems the Greenlanders did not vacate their settlements because they could not adapt to a diet similar to that of the Inuit but for other reasons – yet to be clarified. It was perhaps the growth of the glaciers that persuaded young people to migrate elsewhere, going back to Scandinavia or Iceland. The settlement died out because there were not enough breeding young females to sustain it – and in the end everybody left. Or died. As they were still in Greenland during the 14th century one wonders if the weather at that time was a deciding factor – yet they had already endured some very cold episodes. Now, if the plague was not spread by rats, as per the consensus, but in the atmosphere as hypothesized by Mike Baillie in New Light on the Black Death, might that have played a role. Highly unlikely as it didn't appear to have an affect on the nearby Inuit community.

What the tests revealed was that by the 14th century the settlers were eating large numbers of seals – from 50 to 80 per cent of their diet – see the paper in the Journal of the North Atlantic, volume 3 (2012).

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