Central Europe's prehistoric people would likely have been amused by today's hand-sized hamburgers and hot dogs, since archaeologists have just uncovered a 29,000 B.C. well-equipped kitchen where roasted gigantic mammoth was one of the last meals served.
The site, called Pavlov VI in the Czech Republic near the Austrian and Slovak Republic borders, provides a homespun look at the rich culture of some of Europe's first anatomically modern humans.
While contemporaneous populations near this region seemed to prefer reindeer meat, the Gravettian residents of this living complex, described in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity, appeared to seek out more super-sized fare.
"It seems that, in contrast to other Upper Paleolithic societies in Moravia, these people depended heavily on mammoths," project leader Jiri Svoboda told Discovery News.
Svoboda, a professor at the University of Brno and director of its Institute of Archaeology, and colleagues recently excavated Pavlov VI, where they found the remains of a female mammoth and one mammoth calf near a 4-foot-wide roasting pit. Arctic fox, wolverine, bear and hare remains were also found, along with a few horse and reindeer bones.
The meats were cooked luau-style underground. Svoboda said, "We found the heating stones still within the pit and around."
Boiling pits existed near the middle roaster. He thinks "the whole situation — central roasting pit and the circle of boiling pits — was sheltered by a teepee or yurt-like structure."
It's unclear if seafood was added to create a surf-and-turf meal, but multiple decorated shells were unearthed. Many showed signs of cut marks, along with red and black coloration. The scientists additionally found numerous stone tools, such as spatulas, blades and saws, which they suggest were good for carving mammoths.
Perforated, decorative pebbles, ceramic pieces and fragments of fired clay were also excavated. The living unit's occupants left their fingerprints on some of the clay pieces, which they decorated with impressions made from reindeer hair and textiles.
Some items might have held "magical" or ritualistic significance, according to the scientists. One such artifact looks to be the head of a lion.
"This carnivore head was first modeled of wet clay, then an incision was made with a sharp tool, and finally the piece was heated in the fire, turned into some kind of ceramic," Svoboda explained. "We hypothesize that this may be sympathetic magic."
"Sympathetic magic" often involves the use of effigies or fetishes, resembling individuals or objects, and is meant to affect the environment or the practitioners themselves.
Archaeologist Erik Trinkaus of Washington University supports the new study, saying the site was "excavated meticulously" by Svoboda and his team.
"This is one more example, in this case from modern detailed excavation and analysis, of the incredibly rich human behavior from this time period," Trinkaus told Discovery News.