Earth Oven Cooking

Earth Oven #3 from site LN-101

This blog post takes us back to a time approximately 1,000 years ago to the sunny warm island of Long Island, The Bahamas. There appears to have been a small enclave of people living on this remote island. These indigenous Caribbean people lived a highly diverse life. In 2015 a roaring category 4 hurricane swept over The Bahamas. After the storm cleared two local people Nick Constantakis and Anthony Maillus found two frontal-occipital modified skulls on the beach. The skulls were modified by compression, which was a tradition of people who lived on the island centuries ago. Nick and Anthony also noticed the place in the dune face where the skulls rolled down from towards the beach. This is how the archaeological site of LN-101 was discovered. As the site was excavated, several earth ovens were discovered. Modern earth ovens are typically comprised of seven parts: prepared basin, fire, layer of hot rocks, lower packing layer, food, upper packing layer, and an earthen cap. This is one of the ways people could and still do cook without pots or pans. However, foods still needed to be processed before being cooked in the earth ovens. While no clay cooking pots were archaeologically recovered, some limestone and shell tools were found. We suspected that these pieces of limestone and shell were used to process the plants cooked in the earth oven. This is what my archaeometric analysis helped determine. Not only which plants were processed (maize, manioc, and zamia) but also how they were processed (slightly cooking before being peeled or grated). The plant remains recovered from these artifacts and the associated earth oven contexts revealed a more complex set of functions than was previously considered for precolonial Bahamian foodways, which involved the processing of several starchy plants. The presence of starch on the surface of a microlithic tool is the first such archaeological evidence for manioc processing with a limestone grater chip in the Caribbean. Please use this link for the published article based on this work.

Shell tool used to process a variety of Caribbean plants.

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