During the Neolithic period around 5000 years ago, some tasty new creatures arrived on the shores of Great Britain… namely, sheep, pigs, and cattle. Up until this time, the people of England had mainly subsisted on fish and other marine species for the majority of their diet – however, with the introduction of these domesticated animal species, along with some new domesticated plants like wheat, the palates of the ancient Brits took a bit of a turn.
Historians have been aware for quite some time that the ancient Britons stopped eating fish at some point along the way, but whether it was a gradual or rapid process has been up for debate. By 4000 BC, there is evidence that domesticated plants and animals were in the area, but did the people adopt these new food sources easily, or did they continue munching on fish sticks when a T-bone steak was available just a few steps away?
Studies of animal and human bones left around some Neolithic archaeological sites in Great Britain have revealed that, in fact, the ancient Brits heartily embraced their new culinary options. Believe it or not, the maxim “you are what you eat” actually rings true to a degree – human bone and tissue is made up of elements from the various foods ingested during a person’s lifetime. When that person dies, the bones retain what could be described as a ‘record’ of what someone has eaten over the course of their lifetime.
The bones examined from the ancient British sites showed that these Neolithic people – who had previously relied on marine species and fish to fill their diets – almost completely abandoned eating fish and seafood once the new domesticated plants and animals arrived. Apparently, the farming lifestyle seemed more attractive than sitting around and fishing.
Farming plants and animals may have been preferred over eating fish due to several factors: the potential for a steadier, more reliable food source; climate change; or cultural pressure. According to the evidence, the fishing lifestyle that had been in place for hundreds of thousands of years was just given up – abandoned – over the course of one generation!
One thing is certain: it is only after this complete shift to domesticated plants and animals that larger populations and more complex societies began to appear in ancient Britain… and rather rapidly, as well. While historians are quick to point out that humans could produce and obtain more food through these domesticated species than they could gather through marine trapping and fishing, there is another explanation that no one seems to have bothered considering… maybe hamburgers just taste better!
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