Humanity

1,600-year-old Untouched Meal Discovered in Alberta, Canada

October 7, 2016 | Erica Tennenhouse

cliffs
The cliffs at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump

Archaeologists uncover an unusual artifact at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.

Archaeologists working at Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in Alberta, Canada have uncovered a curious artefact: a roasting pit dating back around 1,600 years with a complete, untouched meal still sealed inside.

"The unusual thing is someone prepared this meal and they didn't go back and open it up and eat it," Bob Dawe of Edmonton's Royal Alberta Museum, the lead archaeologist on the project, tells the CBC. "It's as unusual as if you were to put your turkey in the oven and never take it out for your turkey dinner."

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Aboriginal people used the area for around 6,000 years to kill buffalo by driving them off a high cliff. A wealth of artifacts like bones and arrowheads scattered around the site attest to how important the role hunting played for the inhabitants.

Exactly what was on the menu back in the day is still somewhat of a mystery. Once the oven has been safely moved to the Museum, Dawe will have the chance to fully analyze its contents. But as he explains to the CBC, it was most likely a “very delicious meal” that would have been placed in a pit lined with rocks and willow branches, covered with dirt, and cooked with a fire overnight.

Why the preparers of the feast never ate the meal is a question that is more difficult to answer, though it is likely something caused them to flee in a hurry. "It may have been a prairie fire or perhaps a blizzard, or maybe some other party of people interceded,” Dawes suggests.

“We’re not really sure. We'll never know,” he says.

Before being wrapped in burlap and lifted from the earth by a crane, the museum-bound artefact, which is about the size of a kitchen table, was blessed by a local elder.

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