About a million years ago humans discovered how to use fire to cook food.
This enabled them to eat a wider range of food. Cooked food was also tender to eat and did not require heavy chewing. More
The earliest people were hunter-gatherers.
In the days before farming, hunter-gatherer groups would have been larger than those that still exist today. Their diets would have been more abundant and varied. More
The Paleolithic hunter-gatherer diet would have been varied.
It would have consisted of meat, fish, shellfish, leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts and insects in varying proportions. More
The two roles of hunter and gatherer were probably carried out by different people.
Within the group, it would have been the men who did the hunting and the women and children who gathered the plants. More
Hunting required a wide range of skills.
The hunters would have to know how to track and kill the animals without getting hurt themselves. It also required courage, as some of the animals they hunted were large and powerful. More
Many of the animals hunted at this time no longer exist.
Examples of such extinct animals are huge woolly mammoths and mastodons, giant hornless rhinos, massive flightless birds. More
Food had to be eaten quickly before it went bad.
Once a kill had been made, all the meat had to be eaten immediately, as there was no means of storing it. Any that was not eaten very quickly rotted and caused health problems. More
The hunter-gatherers would have had detailed knowledge of their environment.
They would have known an awful lot about the animal and plants living there, a kind of knowledge completely lost by modern humans. More
Cooking was done on open fires and meals may have developed into more social events.
At this time, meals may have started to become as important as they have been in traditional societies ever since. The open fires were often made in shallow pits to conserve the heat and protect from the wind. More
Cooking used easy to obtain items such as plant leaves and stones.
One cooking method was to dig a large hole, light a fire in it, place large stones on top and heat them to a high temperature, then place meat on top of the hot stones between layers of green plants and cover the whole thing with earth. More
Other methods of cooking were boiling and roasting.
A different method of cooking was to fill a pit with water, and then drop heated stones into it to boil the water. Meat would then be dropped into the water to be boiled and more stones added to keep the water hot. Roasting animals over spits was also common. More
In the late Paleolithic period, Britain's native flora developed.
As the ice retreated, at the end of the last ice age, Britain's native flora developed. Many of these plants were gathered and used to supplement the diet. More
The Paleolithic diet was more nutritious than the early Neolithic diet.
Overall, Paleolithic/Mesolithic hunter-gatherers would have experienced less malnutrition than the Neolithic farming tribes that followed. More
Early peoples often lived near the coast, supplementing their diet with seaweeds and shellfish.
Fish, both freshwater and seawater, were a very common feature of prehistoric diets. More
Fish could be quite difficult to cook, so they were baked in wet clay.
If fish get too hot, their meat is easily charred. An effective method that prevented this was to cover the fish entirely in wet clay, then place it in a hot fire. More
The making of alcohol also started in the Paleolithic period.
It was also during the Paleolithic period that people first began fermenting grapes in animal skin pouches, to create wine. More
Farming changed the diet of humans radically.
People settling down in one place were able to develop new, heavy implements for cooking. This changed what was cooked and how it was cooked. More
The Neolithic period saw the diet change to one of cereals and produce from domesticated animals.
The diet became restricted to a mixture of successfully cultivated cereal grains, such as wheat and barley, other cultivated plants (such as beans, cabbages, spinach, onions, garlic, cucumbers) and domesticated animal products, including milk. More
Neolithic people were more likely to suffer famine.
As Neolithic people were more dependent on one or two crops, if the crops failed this had a much bigger impact on the health of the people. More
The invention of pottery allowed foods to be cooked more easily.
Pottery allowed liquids to be boiled over fires, so that porridges, stews and soups could be made much more easily. The spreading use of iron, after about 1000 BC, made the manufacture of pots, pans and cauldrons even easier. More
Farming saw the introduction of animals that we still use for meat or dairy today.
As people started to move towards more settled communities, domestication of livestock saw animals that we are familiar with today. Pigs, sheep and goats became popular as food. More
Birds were popular as food as they could be caught all year round.
Birds of all kinds, large and small, were also a regular feature of the prehistoric diet. More
As communities settled, the production of alcoholic drinks became more important.
Alcoholic drinks became valuable as alcohol killed the bacteria which made the water, which was becoming more polluted as people lived closer together, unsafe. These drinks included wine (in the south) and ale or mead (in the north). More
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