Remnants of a Stone Age Settlement, Skara Brae is located on the largest island in the Orkney archipelago in Scotland have revealed unusual dietary habits of its inhabitants. The residents were farmers who raised cattle and sheep, planted crops and dined on shellfish. However, a new delicacy was discovered.
Researchers found that the settlement dating from 3180 B.C. to 2500 B.C., had a proliferation of voles, more than a normal habitation, and wondered what drew them. While excavating during the 1970’s, they unearthed 2.5 pounds of micro mammal bones (wood mice and Orkney voles) out of four different trenches. They bagged them and set out to research them. They studied the remains of at least 1,674 rodents in 29,553 skeletal fragments, including 8,360 isolated teeth. Most of them came from voles. Their findings were just released.
We were studying rodent bone remains to see if we could find out anything about the relationship between the people who lived at Skara Brae and the rodents that were also there at the time, 5,000 years ago. Were the rodents just living around the village anyway, or were they a serious pest to the inhabitants, for example.
It is known that Orknay voles were introduced from Continental Europe during the Neolithic era. Voles are often considered pests who destroyed crops and brought disease. They usually lived in the woods, feasting on grasses, seeds, flowers, leaves, other plant life and occasionally insects. However, in this case, it seemed that the voles were deliberately brought into the village.
Dr. Herman says,
The remains were mixed with other human refuse, showing that they were likely to have been put there by the people who lived there, rather than birds of prey or other animals.
Many of the remains were burnt, as if they had been roasted on a fire, suggesting that they were being cooked and presumably eaten. Only voles, and not mice were eaten.
It appears that the meaty voles were roasted whole over fires until crispy. It is surmised that they were a snack or an emergency food source. It has been noted that voles were often transported on ships as a possible food source on long sea journeys.
Dr. Herman adds,
Rodent remains have been found in archaeological sites around the world, including the Middle East, eastern Asia, both South and North America and in southern Africa. These were also used for food and the practice is still common in some parts of the world, for example in South America. However, we have the earliest evidence for rodents being used as food in the European continent.
Rodents are frequently excavated from older archaeological sites in Europe, but people haven’t examined why they are there. Maybe because they are not currently a food source in Europe, no one ever thought to ask if they had been in the past.
Anyone ready to try Vole en Brochette? Vole Shish Kebob?