5,000 Years Ago, Rodents Were on the Menu in Ancient Scotland

By Eve Peyser on at

According to a new study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science on Tuesday, 5,000 years ago people in Europe likely ate rodents as snacks.

A new discovery by archeologists in Scotland suggests that mice and vole weren’t considered mere pests in ancient European society, but also a source of nutrition. At the Skara Brae settlement, found on an island off Scotland, researchers went through 60,000 small mammal bones. The island consists of the remains of eight stone houses, from radiocarbon dating estimates they were built sometime around 3180 BC to 2500 BC.

This is the first time anyone has studied the relationship between the people of Skara Brae and the rodent population, which consist of the wood mouse and the Orkney vole. The LA Times reports:

After reexamining the bones, the authors found the number of mouse bones was equal across all four trenches. However, the trench in one building had a greater accumulation of vole bones than the other three trenches. This suggests that the voles, who generally live in the fields and stay away from human homes, had been brought there deliberately by people, the authors said.

The researchers also found burn marks on the bones. Jeremy Herman, a biologist at the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh, told the LA Times, “the way they are burnt it’s pretty clear that they were pretty much whole when they were stuck on the embers of a fire. I haven’t tried it myself, but I imagine they got pretty crisp on the outside.”

Herman believes that the people of Skara Brae didn’t eat rodents as their primary food source, but rather “as a snack or...something they fell back on or harder times. Maybe kids were catching them and then roasting them. It’s hard to tell”. The scientists didn’t find any evidence that they were eating the field mice, only voles, prompting them to speculate perhaps the vole were tastier.

The researchers say this is only the beginning of their quest to find out whether white people used to eat rodents. Good luck on your journey, mates. [LA Times]