From 1960 through 1966, Americans fell in love with Hanna-Barbera’s The Flintstones. Set in the Modern Stone Age city of Bedrock, the cartoon included many fun plays on contemporary technologies and amenities. We’re talking lawnmowers powered by grass-hungry dinos. And the Octopusaurus, which hung out at the local bowling alley, automatically resetting the pins with its tentacles.
Betty’s “typewriter” relied on a bird to tap her messages into stone tablets, and a long-beaked bird and turtle managed the record playing. Another fun fave? The Rabbitosaurus, whose “rabbit ears” literally acted as TV antennae. These fun shoutouts to 20th-century tech made prehistory look mighty convenient.
Of course, archaeologists have yet to uncover Octopusauruses or Rabbitosauruses at Stone Age human settlements. But they recently stumbled upon the presence of one food that’s downright posh — caviar.
An Egg-Cellent Meal for Prehistoric Peeps
Today, champagne and caviar are markers of wealth, savored by some of the most affluent people in the world. Caviar goes for roughly $90 per ounce, but prices vary based on the reserve.
At the highest end, you’ll find Strottarga Bianco, also known as White Gold caviar. How much does it cost? A whopping $568 per teaspoon! Clearly, caviar is a sophisticated item that requires LOTS of money to savor.
Perhaps this is why it’s easy to assume caviar is a fairly recent addition to the human menu. But an archaeological site in Brandenburg, Germany, is upturning everything we know about the history of gastronomy (the practice of cooking and eating food) and, more specifically, indulging in fish eggs.
Proteomics Shed New Light on Ancient Eats
Germany’s Friesack 4 archaeological site dates to at least 6,000 years old. So far, scientists have recovered roughly 150,000 artifacts for study from the site. These artifacts include 4,000-year-old ceramic cooking vessels.
A new technique for analysis, proteomics, is now permitting researchers a window into what may have cooked in these pots. Proteomics lets scientists study protein sets to determine how old they are and which animals they come from.
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This approach allows for “a higher level of detail than most archaeological assessments of historical food substances.” And it also ensures that cross contamination from later periods doesn’t get calculated into the mix.
For the research into caviar, researchers isolated more than 300 proteins. They compared these with fresh fish tissue and roe, confirming the presence of these ingredients.
The History of Gastronomy Revisited
So far, proteomics has yielded surprising results when it comes to the proteins found in prehistoric cooking pots. In turn, these findings continue to rewrite the history of gastronomy. Moreover, they’re also adding important pages to humanity’s prehistoric cookbook.
For example, some refined foods, considered recent inventions, actually boast deep, Stone Age roots. Which ones are we talking about? Everything from salad dressing to cheese and bone broth. Now, we can add caviar to the tasting tray!
Maybe the real Fred and Wilma couldn’t fall back on lawnmower dinos and bird typewriters, but they had a thing or two figured out when it came to upscale cuisine.
By Engrid Barnett, contributor for Ripleys.com