What did people eat in the prehistoric period?

How can archaeology help us to find out what people ate in Norfolk in the prehistoric period?

Archaeologists can recover evidence of what was eaten in the past by studying bones, seeds and pollen. At Happisburgh a flint working site has been uncovered that dates to between 500,000 and 700,000 years ago (NHER 35385). Animals were killed and butchered at the site ready for eating. Bones recovered from the site include rhinoceros, bison, fallow deer, duck and frog. Although the exact date of the deposits are uncertain, this is one of the most important Palaeolithic sites in northwestern Europe.  

Reconstruction of the Happisburgh Palaeolithic killsite including flora and fauna reconstructed from the archaeological evidence.

Reconstruction of the Happisburgh Palaeolithic killsite including flora and fauna reconstructed from the archaeological evidence. P. Rye.) 

What did people eat in Norfolk in the prehistoric period?

Butchered animal bones recovered from prehistoric sites in Norfolk include beaver, boar, ox, cow, sheep, deer, horse and mammoth. Plant and shell remains include oyster and hazelnut.

Try these prehistoric recipes:

Smoked fish stew

125g bacon
2 leeks
500g of any smoked fish
1 litre milk
1 cup cream
Some chives
1 tsp salt

Fry the bacon until the fat comes away from it and add the chopped leeks. Cook until tender. Add the fillets of fish and cover with the milk. Slowly cook in a pot near the fire until the fish is cooked, which is about 30 minutes. Pour in the cream, along with the chopped chives and salt. 

Among the fish remains found in prehistoric middens (waste pits) in northern Europe are: eel, carp, pike, perch, trout, salmon, plaice, bass, mullet, cod and spurdog.

Nettle pudding

1 bunch of sorrel
1 bunch of watercress
1 bunch of dandelion leaves
2 bunches of young nettle leaves
Some chives
1 cup of barley flour
1 tsp salt

Chop the herbs finely and mix in the barley flour and salt. Add enough water to bind it together and place in the centre of a linen or muslin cloth. Tie the cloth securely and add to a pot of simmering venison or wild boar (a pork joint will do just as well). Leave in the pot until the meat is cooked and serve with chunks of bread.

Sweet bread

500g honey
1.5kg stone-ground flour
1 cup shelled chopped hazelnuts
1 tsp sea salt
Milk to mix

Mix all the ingredients together with enough water to make a soft dough. Shape into small flat cakes and cook on a hot griddle that has been dusted with flour (this stops them from sticking). When cold, spread with butter.

M. Dennis (NLA), 14 May 2007.


Further Reading

Channel 4, undated. Time Team Prehistoric Recipes. Available:


Accessed 14 May 2007.

Wood, J., 2002. Prehistoric Cooking (Stroud, Tempus).

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