Stone Age Brits loved porridge for breakfast too
06 September 2022
People living in Britain thousands of years ago combined cereals and milk in cooking pots, archaeologists have found, suggesting they may have enjoyed the same hot porridge breakfasts as their modern-day descendants.
A team of scientists, including archaeologists from the University of Reading, has uncovered intriguing new insights into the diet of people living in Neolithic Britain, also called the New Stone Age, between 4000 and 2000 BC.
During analysis, biomarkers for cereals, including wheat, were detected in one third of excavated cooking pots, providing the earliest biomolecular evidence for cereals in absorbed pottery residues in this region.
Fatty residues found alongside the cereal markers indicated that they may have been cooked with milk, and sometimes with meat.
Professor Garrow said: “This research, undertaken by our colleagues at the University of Bristol, has hugely improved our knowledge of these sites in many exciting ways. We very much look forward to developing this collaborative research going forwards.”
The team, which was led by the University of Bristol, used chemical analysis of ancient, and incredibly well-preserved pottery found in the waters surrounding small artificial islands called crannogs in Scotland. Using this method, they were able to discern the ingredients in what were probably early forms of porridge, or gruel, and stew. They also discovered that the people visiting these crannogs used smaller pots to cook cereals with milk, and larger pots for meat-based dishes.
The findings are reported today in the journal Nature Communications.
Many of the pots analysed were intact and decorated, which could suggest they may have had some sort of ceremonial purpose. Since the actual function of the crannogs themselves is also not fully understood yet - some being far too small for permanent occupation - the research provides new insights into possible ways these constructions were used.
The findings indicate that wheat was being cooked in pots, even though the limited evidence from charred plant parts in this region of Atlantic Scotland points mainly to barley. This could be because wheat is under-represented in charred plant remains, due to the alternative practice of boiling the grain in stews and gruel.
Crannog sites in the Outer Hebrides are currently the focus of the four-year Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded ‘Islands of Stone’ project, directed by two of the papers’ authors (Duncan Garrow, University of Reading, and Fraser Sturt, University of Southampton) along with Angela Gannon, Historic Environment Scotland.