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Archaeologists Had a Huge Reenactment Party to Verify Ancient Pit Oven

A prehistoric-style barbecue helped feed 200 guests — and prove archaeologists’ hypothetis

(Department of Antiquities/Republic of Cyprus)
smithsonian.com

Sometimes, archaeologists can discover a piece of ancient history, but not really know what it means or how it was used. And sometimes, as Megan Gannon reports for LiveScience, they turn into reenactors to help them figure it out.

That’s what happened when Andrew McCarthy and a team of archaeologists from the University of Edinburgh decided to test a hunch about what they thought was a 9,000-year-old barbecue pit, writes Gannon. After three years of excavations of an eight-foot-deep pit at the Prastio-Mesorotsos settlement in Western Cyprus, Gannon reports, the team thought a large stone-lined pit they had uncovered was originally used for cooking during large festivals and gatherings. But the pit’s sheer size made them uncertain whether the pit could really be used for prehistoric weenie roasts.

Clearly, the only solution to such a quandary was to have a gigantic party. Gannon writes that the team dug a replica of the fire pit nearby and reenacted the cooking methods that would have been used by the site’s prehistoric chefs.

Archaeology News Network reports that under the guise of an “experimental archaeology project,” the team staged “an authentic Neolithic-style feast for nearly 200 guests.” Gannon goes into the delicious details in her article, but suffice it to say that the feast was epic indeed — think whole-roasted pig and succulent goat meat infused with lemon and herbs. Mystery solved — and bellies full.

Even though in this case, the term “experimental archaeology project” facilitated an excellent meal, it’s actually a bona fide discipline for archaeologists looking to test the technologies of bygone days. By recreating the environments and activities of the past, archaeologists can add much-needed context to their field work and lend historians and anthropologists a better understanding of how the past worked.

“Sometimes the studies look more like play than research,” writes Wired’s Brandon Keim in a piece about the discipline, “but why shouldn’t research be fun?” Turns out there’s no reason research can’t be tasty, too.

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