Precursor Man

Homo praecursor heidelbergensis (Homo heidelbergensis) 400 000 years ago in Europe

Caves had run out a long time ago and there were many tribes. Some tribes lived on grassland heaths, others in woodlands or in marshlands which they turned into fens. Each had their own type of staple food – in the fens they had reedmace roots, and in the woodland clearings root crops.

We were more for the parsnips but others went for turnips, and there were the novelty radishes. When visiting relatives we took a basket full of tubers as was the custom, picking out the best as a gift. We felt proud to select the best ones and we always got good produce in return.

When we got there we’d go straight out to inspect the vegetable plot and see how things were growing. We’d pop some of the root vegetables we’d brought into the soil to grow and produce more, then dig some others up for us to take home and for the feast.

The men had dug a large hole wielding stone axes hafted like a hoe. It was for the turf oven. They already had the bonfire lit to heat up stones for the oven when we joined them.

We started wrapping up roots and meat in large butterbur leaves (you could also use rhubarb leaves), and getting the shellfish ready that had been gathered in the early morning. It would all go into the hole with the hot stones, then be covered by leaves and turf.

We sat down with some drink served up in gourds and watched the steam rise out of the ground for about six hours. I don’t know what was in the drink – I saw they’d been fermenting it inside a dugout canoe – I got quite dizzy. The stories they were telling all became a blur. Then at last we got some food – you could feed a hundred people from a turf oven if you needed to.

Curanto en hoyo Chiloe, Chile 1990s – Turf oven with shellfish, pork, potatoes, beans and potatoe cakes (milcao) covered by gunnera leaves – a prehistoric turf oven would be supplied with wooden bowls and people not wearing these clothes but otherwise the same

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