History

3,000-Year-Old Cooking Mistake Revealed

Archaeologists in Denmark have found evidence of a 3,000 year-old cooking mistake that casts some light into the everyday life of Scandinavian Bronze Age people.

Clear evidence for one of the most common mistakes in the kitchen – burning food -- lay in a clay pot that was excavated in central Jutland, Denmark.

The clay vessel was found, upturned and in near mint condition, at the bottom of what was once a waste pit.

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"The pot is typical for cooking vessels in this region of Denmark. It was accompanied by several other objects fitting the dating," archaeologist Kaj F. Rasmussen from Museum Silkeborg, Denmark, told Discovery News.

He noted the discovery itself is a lucky breakthrough, since a vessel capable of surviving intact over the last 3,000 years is indeed a unique finding.

"Ordinarily clay pots will have been reduced to shards before deposition, or have been crushed by pressure from the covering earth," Rasmussen said.

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Most intriguingly, the pot showed a white-yellow crust onto the inside. Rasmussen admitted they had never seen such burnt substance. Food remains in pots are usually black, charred deposits from corn or seeds.

"We analyzed three samples via gas chromatography at the laboratories of the Danish National Museum in Copenhagen. It emerged the fats were probably bovine," Rasmussen said.

He speculates the bovine fat represents the failed result of cheese making.

"The fat could be a part of the last traces of curds used during the original production of traditional hard cheese. The whey is boiled down, and it contains a lot of sugars, which in this way can be preserved and stored for the winter," Rasmussen told Science Nordic.

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"It is the same method used to make brown, Norwegian whey cheese, where you boil down the whey, and what's left is a caramel-like mass that is turned into the brown cheese that we know today from the supermarket chiller cabinet," he added.

But in an era without Teflon coating, something might have gone wrong during the cheese making process.

The fact that the pot was simply thrown away without any attempt to clean the burnt substance does raise some questions.

According to the archaeologists, either the pot was thrown in a moment of anger over the cooking mistake or the cheese maker just wanted to get rid of the pot.

"I cannot help but wonder if someone had a guilty conscience. It's well and truly burnt and must have smelt terrible," Rasmussen said.

"Were there any hard feelings over the missing cheese? Perhaps there was a little family drama? You can almost imagine how quickly [the cheese maker] must have acted to get rid of that pot," he said.