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A 9,000-year-old Recipe For Roast Armadillo

<p>Hunter-gatherers in the Argentine Pampas 9,000 years ago cooked local armadillo by flipping the animals on their backs and roasting the meat in the shell.</p>
Image: A Brazilian armadillo
A Brazilian three-banded armadillo in Rio de Janeiro.VANDERLEI ALMEIDA / AFP / Getty Images file

There is only one way to roast a big hairy armadillo, just ask the Argentinians. Communities in that country have been cooking the armored mammals the same way for 9,000 years: flipping them on their backs and roasting them in their shell.

Armadillo remains found at 10 hunter-gatherer archaeological sites, dating between 9,000 and 6,000 years ago, left researchers guessing about how the critters got there: Were they cooked and eaten? Did the animals find their way to the site afterwards? Perhaps humans built a cooking hearth above animal remains, causing them to char.

In northern Argentina, some communities continue to cook armadillos in this way, hinting that the animals were killed and cooked for their meat, as a supplement to larger game like Pampas deer.

To confirm this, researchers experimented with six armadillos, cooking three in their shells on a specially constructed hearth, and burying the three others under it, while the flames were on.

“The animal was cooked using its armor as a natural container, directly on the fire. Then the cavities were filled with hot-rocks,” Romina Frontini, a researcher at the Universidad Nacional del Sur told NBC News in an email.

(No armadillos were harmed along the way: the researchers cooked critters that were found dead.)

The burn marks left on the shell in the BBQ-ed mammals matched those found on the samples, Frontini and her colleague Rodrigo Vecchi report in a new paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

This work adds detail to our understanding of the daily lives of an ancient community, before Spanish influences from visiting explorers changed the local customs, she said.