Big-game hunts about 12,000 years ago involved feasting on a meaty morsel popular with today's gourmets, followed by chopping, hauling, bone tossing, jewelry making and boasting.
All of these activities are suggested by remains found at a prehistoric Danish butchering site, called Lundy Mose, which is described in a paper accepted for publication in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Bone fragments belonging to wild boar, red deer and aurochs were unearthed. But the hunters clearly had a taste for elk meat, since elk remains were prevalent at the site, located in South Zealand, Denmark.
"Due to very good conditions of bone preservation, Lundby Mose offers exceptional opportunities for detailed reconstruction of exploitation patterns, and allows a very precise picture of the different activities involved in elk exploitation," archaeologist Charlotte Leduc of the University of Paris wrote.
Her detailed analysis of the remains determined that the hunters first cut around the elk heads and other parts of the body in order to remove the hides. At least one of the hides then likely became a perishable container, comparable to a garbage bag, upon which refuse was placed and later bundled.
The hunters then removed meat from easy-to-access parts, such as the limbs, and likely feasted on it right then and there. No roasting pit or evidence for fire is mentioned, so it might have been consumed raw.
All skeletal parts containing marrow -- now a delicacy in many fine restaurants -- were fractured to enable its extraction.
Wietske Prummel of the University of Groningen, who analyzed another prehistoric Northern European butchering site, told Discovery News that marrow was usually "consumed by hunters immediately after butchering. It was their reward for the successful kill."
The hunters skillfully cut around the body, trimming fat and boning meat for later easy consumption. Leduc thinks much of the meat could have been transported to a nearby settlement site.
Before that happened, however, the hunters removed select bones, such as from the long limbs, likely for making bone weapons and tools. They also removed the antlers.
The elk's shoulder blade bones were taken out and afterwards, back at the settlement, "were sometimes worked and used presumably as knives for fish processing," Leduc suspects.
As the hunters worked, they appear to have dumped waste material onto the reserved hide. It was later tossed into a nearby lake.
The front teeth of the elks were missing, suggesting "a specific status of front teeth for the hunters," according to Leduc. Other prehistoric hunt scenes support this theory, as do discoveries of prehistoric tooth bling.
This series of events likely played out countless times, even long before 12,000 years ago.
"Modern humans hunted and butchered large game and cooked the meat from circa 45,000 years ago when they arrived in Europe," Marcel Niekus of the University of Groningen, told Discovery News.
The practices probably even went back to Neanderthal times, but not necessarily to the benefit of these now-extinct members of the human family tree.
A prior study in the Journal of Anthropological Science, authored by Fernando Rozzi of France's National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), suggests that around 30,000 years ago, a person in France might have consumed a Neanderthal child and made a necklace out of its teeth.