Bronze Age Cauldrons Show We’ve Always Loved Meat, Dairy, And Fancy Cookware

Credits: iScience/Wilkin et al.

Studying ancient bones can offer researchers insights into the physical structure of our ancestors, yet determining their diets is more elusive. To understand ancient human diets, archaeologists often rely on contextual indicators or occasionally stumble upon preserved fecal matter.

However, occasionally, remnants of proteins and fats can be detected on old pottery pieces or within dental remains.

Research published on August 18 in iScience has revealed that during the Maykop era (roughly 3700–2900 BCE) of the Bronze Age, inhabitants of the Caucasus consumed animals like sheep, deer, goats, and bovine species. Archaeological discoveries of ancient cauldrons in Eurasia were instrumental in uncovering this dietary history.

The research merged protein examination with archaeological methods to delve into the culinary contents of ancient cauldrons unearthed from gravesites in the Caucasus area of Eurasia.

This zone extends from the Caspian to the Black Seas, covering regions from Southwestern Russia to Turkey. Several metal alloys possess properties that inhibit microbial action, thus preserving proteins on these cauldrons.

The microbial action in the soil, which usually breaks down proteins on stone or ceramic surfaces, is thwarted on these metal alloys. From seven cauldrons, the researchers extracted eight residue samples, identifying proteins related to milk, muscular tissue, and blood.

They found a protein named heat shock protein beta-1 (HSPB-1), which suggests that these cauldrons were utilized to cook deer or bovine meats (like cows, yaks, or water buffaloes). Milk proteins, possibly from goats or sheep, were also detected, hinting at dairy preparation by these ancient people.

Through radiocarbon analysis, the group estimates the cauldrons’ usage to be around 3520–3350 BCE. These cauldrons bear evidence of usage and subsequent damage but also show considerable mending.

The effort to mend these culinary tools indicates their intrinsic value and the expertise needed for their creation. Such cooking apparatus might have represented social stature or affluence.

For upcoming research, the researchers aspire to contrast and correlate diverse types of ancient vessels. This might offer insights into regional culinary practices and variations during that period. Since food plays a pivotal role in shaping cultures, such investigations can aid in drawing connections between distinct ancient societies.