Prehistoric Pit Barbecue
from the book, "Petrified Lightning"

Book: 
Petrified Lightning

Prehistoric Pit Barbecue

 

In the cave of Teshik Tash, Siberia, evidence abounds that its Neanderthal inhabitants
specialized in hunting the Siberian ibex. The Stone Age Neanderthals were not
noted for keeping a tidy cave, so bones of numerous ibex were strewn throughout
the living area. The cave may have been purposely unkempt. Scraps of food would
attract small animals, who would become a
supplementary treat for the tenants. Numerous ibex remains indicate that they
were a favorite prey, although their size and menacing horns suggest that they
could not have been captured without a struggle.

Deep,
narrow ravines, a prominent feature of the landscape throughout the region,
provide a clue to the method the Neanderthal used to snare the ibex. With
raucous shouting and waving of spears and clubs, one group of hunters would
stampede the herd over a cliff. The ibex would tumble into the ravine, where
they lay with broken bones, to be easily dispatched by hunters waiting below.
The bodies were then carried to nearby caves and eaten. Radiometric dating
shows that these ibex met their fate over 65,000 years ago.

In
the last half—century the outdoor barbecue has become an essential fixture in
suburban American lifestyle. Occasionally in the interest of glamour and a convivial
group effort, the expensive, well—equipped grill is replaced with a simple firepit. When rocks on the bottom are heated sufficiently,
some unfortunate animal, usually a pig, lamb, or any kind of fowl, is placed in
the pit and roasted to provide a “new” delicious high in outdoor living.
However, the pit barbeque is actually a “hand—me—down” from one our prehistoric
ancestors used for thousands of years.

Scientists
investigating early inhabited sites in Europe have often been impressed by the vast numbers of large game animals
hunted and consumed by Stone Age citizens. These included such behemoths as the
mammoth, mastodon, giant sloth, cave bear, and woolly rhinoceros. The question
uppermost in the minds of the researchers was how early man could, with his
primitive tools and weapons, subdue such many—tonned
beasts and drag them home to dinner.

Throughout
much of France and Spain remnants of deep pits are rather common. Here,
scientists speculated, lay the answer. The ancient hunters would dig pits and, with
shouts, pounding, and whatever racket they could kick up, would drive the
animal toward the pits. Some would blindly fall into the disguised hole in the
ground. In a pit a huge animal was practically helpless, and the hunters would
bounce rocks off its head or spear the animal without any real danger to themselves. Then they would cut up the meat and transport
sizable portions, or perhaps leave the animal in the pit and feast on it there.

No
pit was ever found that contained the animal itself, so this logical scenario
was unproved until quite recently. At the base of a 150—foot cliff near
Badegoule, France, scientists discovered the bones of a 12—foot, eight—ton ice age
mammoth. The remains indicate it was the victim of a successful hunt, probably
by a group of Cro—Magnon humans. The mammoth appears to have been a solitary
grazer near the edge of the steep cliff. The shrieking hunters, waving spears,
clubs, and fire brands, would have driven the huge beast into a panic until it
turned and ran headlong off the cliff. The impact of the fall broke all four
legs and probably killed the animal outright. In a deep pit dug under the
carcass, the mammoth was roasted right on the spot, undoubtedly amid great
celebration. Radiometric dating indicates the hunt happened about 30,000 years
ago.

A
large ice age animal was found in another pit, not in Europe but in the Patagonian region of Argentina. During the early 1980s scientists uncovered the
remains of a deep pit into which a giant ice age sloth had been driven 12,000
years ago. After driving it into the pit, the Paleo—Indians
quickly dispatched the huge animal. They never attempted to remove it but
rather cooked the animal right where it fell. It probably weighed several tons
and certainly provided enough to feed the tribe of hunters.

The
efficient cooking style of choice for many thousands of years was the pit
barbecue. Only recently have glamour and elegance been added
to this cooking method.