The Rat Snacks of Skara Brae.

PhysOrg gives us a new perspective on rat remains found in 5,000-year-old settlements. They weren’t eating our scraps – we were eating *them*:

The new finding, reported Tuesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science, was made after researchers sifted through nearly 60,000 small mammal bones collected at the Skara Brae settlement on the largest island of the Orknay archipelago in Scotland.

Skara Brae consists of the remnants of eight stone houses and was occupied in the latter half of the Stone Age from roughly 3180 B.C. to 2500 B.C., according to radiocarbon dating.

Archaeologists pulled more than 2.5 pounds of micro mammal bones out of four different trenches dug at and near the site in the 1970s. The bones were bagged based on which trench they came from and also what strata or time period they represented. [Biologist Jeremy] Herman, the senior author on the study, said all told there were enough bones to fill a cereal box.

Previous studies have shown that there were just two types of rodents living among the people of Skara Brae – the wood mouse and the Orkney vole, a form of the common European vole. However, until now, nobody had studied how these rodent populations interacted with humans.

After re-examining the bones, the authors found the number of mouse bones was equal across all four trenches. However, the trench in one building had a greater accumulation of vole bones than the other three trenches. This suggests that the voles, who generally live in the fields and stay away from human homes, had been brought there deliberately by people, the authors said.

In addition, the research team found burn marks on several of the bones, suggesting the animals had been roasted.

“The way they are burnt it’s pretty clear that they were pretty much whole when they were stuck on the embers of a fire,” Herman said. “I haven’t tried it myself, but I imagine they got pretty crisp on the outside.”

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