The media love to feed us advice on how we ought to live more in line with nature and our origins, and often how we should eat a natural ‘Stone Age’ diet. But what did people eat in the Stone Age? This is a question investigated by archaeologist Gunilla Eriksson.
Using chemical analyses of human bones, she has studied peoples’ eating habits in Sweden and Latvia between 10,000 and 4,500 BC. The results show that far from a standard Stone Age diet, there were huge variations, which she thinks have less to do with chronological and geographic differences, and much more to do with cultural factors. Certainly today, we eat only a fraction of all available food: our diet is culturally dependent – based on rules of what we can, or can not eat. It appears that the same was true in prehistory, and that it is impossible to deduce what people ate merely on the basis of available resources.
For example by investigating the people buried at Västerbjers on Gotland around 5,000 years ago, Eriksson has shown that although they had contact with land-cultivating groups, they persisted in hunting seals. She concedes that seals would have provided a rich and reliable resource, but emphasizes that they were also a central feature of their cultural identity, which helps to explain why seals continued to dominate the peoples’ subsistence.
This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 2. Click here to subscribe