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(Courtesy Bob Dawe, Royal Alberta Museum)Removal of plaster-covered roasting pit, Head-Smashed-In, Canada

 

Source: A Removable Feast

Royal Alberta Museum archaeologist Bob Dawe recently returned to the scene of an unusual discovery he made in 1990. While excavating at Head-Smashed-In, a prehistoric buffalo jump in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, he uncovered an intact 1,600-year-old sandstone-lined roasting pit. Such archaeological features are often found near buffalo jumps and were probably used to cook large quantities of meat for celebratory feasts—but they are always empty. This example was brimming with bones belonging to a buffalo calf, at least two adult buffalo, and a canine, probably a dog-wolf hybrid. The people who had hoped to dine on the meat, likely ancestors of today’s Blackfoot, never retrieved it. Sensing excavation of the pit would be a complicated affair, Dawe covered it up and vowed to return when he had the time to investigate it properly.

Last summer, with the help of paleontologists, Dawe and his team dug around the roasting pit and encased it in a plaster jacket so they could lift it out of the earth intact. Dawe plans to methodically excavate the feature in the laboratory, and eventually put it on display, but he doesn’t expect to ever find out just why the lavish banquet remained in the ground. “It would have been quite a feast,” says Dawe, “so something drastic must have happened. Maybe there was a blizzard, or a prairie fire. Or maybe other people drove them away.”

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Royal Alberta Museum archaeologists dug up a 1,600-year-old roasting pit at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump in southern Alberta. This photo shows the preservation of the pit and plaster jacketing being started. Courtesy: Royal Alberta Museum

Royal Alberta Museum archaeologists dug up a 1,600-year-old roasting pit at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump in southern Alberta. This photo shows the preservation of the pit and plaster jacketing being started.
Courtesy: Royal Alberta Museum

Original article:

By Brenton Driedger

Global news.ca

Royal Alberta Museum archaeologists are about to start a lengthy and intricate process of figuring out what ancient Albertans cooked for supper.

Last year, they dug up a 1,600-year-old roasting pit at Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo Jump in southern Alberta. The oven was intact and still had a prepared meal inside, which could make it the only known artifact of its kind.

“Somebody — probably celebrating the success of a hunt — had a big feast afterward and prepared a bison calf and some kind of a dog, maybe part-wolf, in a pit side by side,” Bob Dawe, the Royal Alberta Museum’s lead archaeologist on the project, said.

“They roasted it overnight in the ground. It would have been a delectable feast in the morning.”

The roasting pit was first discovered in 1990, but archaeologists didn’t excavate it until last year, before packing it up and moving it to Edmonton.

That process involved laying fiberglass-reinforced plaster strips all over it until they hardened. Dawe said when the plaster hardened, they could pick up the pit with a crane and put it on a truck bound for Edmonton. That was a lot of work, but there’s still a lot left to do.

“It looks like a 3,000-pound plaster lozenge, not quite two metres in diametre and about half a metre thick,” Dawe laughed.

“We retrieved this assembly of rocks and sediment and bones intact with some great difficulty.”

Dawe expects it to take months to cut off the top, scrape away the dirt, and carefully clean and preserve every bone. They want it ready to display when the new museum opens in downtown Edmonton later this year.

One of the barriers to the work will be psychological, since one set of remains belongs to a dog.

“A lot of dog-lovers are a little concerned that a dog was part of the meal, and as a dog lover myself I find that a little bit bothersome, but people have been using dogs as food in the Americas for 10,000 years and they still use dogs as food all over the world,” said Dawe.

“I have a dog, and I’m sure my dog would be unhappy to hear that I’m digging up one of his ancestors.”

 

 

 

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