Cooking a pig, Bronze Age style! Part 1

During our excavations on the route of the N9/N10 Carlow Bypass, we came across a Bronze Age settlement in the townland of Tinryland which dated to the middle Bronze Age. This contained the remains of a number of post-built roundhouses together with the usual spread of anomalous pits. It also uncovered one quite amazing elongated feature which was packed with heat cracked stone and was edged with reddened clay, evidence of intense heat. Small amounts of burnt pig bone together with charred hazelnut shells, worked flint and domestic pottery were retrieved from the backfill of the pit. Evidence for a possible windbreak at the southwest side would also seem to indicate that an attempt was made to control the level of oxygen entering the fire pit, as this is the direction of the prevailing wind. This would appear to be a good candidate for a roasting pit backfilled with the detritus that accumulated around it.

Post Excavation shot of the Tinryland Bronze Age pit showing reddening caused by intense heat.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (The River Cottage Meat Book 2004, 384) gives an excellent account of how to build a `Maori barbeque´ which bears a striking resemblance to the archaeological remains from the Tinryland site. Here a large pit is excavated suitable for taking large pieces of meat or entire animals. The pit has to be of a sufficient size to hold both the meat and a large quantity of charcoal. A fire is lit in the pit which generates a significant quantity of hot coals. In a Bronze Age context stones would be added to the charcoal rich fire. When the fire has generated sufficient hot coals (or hot stones) they are leveled off and a thin layer of soil is laid over the top. Next comes a layer of banana leaves which in Bronze Age Ireland would have been substituted with some other type of vegetation, possibly large leaves, grass, seaweed or straw. Then the meat is added along with a pile of vegetables. A further layer of leaves is then added to seal the food, which is in turn sealed with another layer of earth. Finally a second fire is lit on the surface so that heat is generated down as well as up. This has the effect of creating a rudimentary oven. Cooking time can be up to 24 hours depending on the size of the meat. Fearnley-Whittingstall mentions that this type of cooking has crossed many cultures and refers to cooking reindeer in Lapland using the same method.

The careful layering of the pit is an important consideration, as is the placement of the meat. It is intended that we will build the experiment up to eventually cook an entire pig (as illustrated).

Our next step is to reconstruct the roasting pit on a smaller scale to see if it works. We hope to do this during the next month or so and will post the results here in Pork Part 2 (if we survive). We intend to wrap a leg of lamb in seaweed, roast for a few hours with some seasonal vegetables and see what happens. Watch this space!

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Karen Wehner

    Aww, not Porky! Very cool. Or perhaps better put as very hot. Look forward to hearing the results.

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