Archeologist makes meal from studying Fremont fecal fossils

Jul 10, 2013

Archeologist Tim Riley holds examples of what might have been on the Fremont menu.

Recent visitors to a museum in Price were invited to get to know the ancient Fremont culture through more than just exhibits. Attendees of USU Eastern’s Prehistoric Museum were given a chance to try foods that the mysterious Freemont people would have eaten between 400 and 1350 AD.

Timothy Riley, the curator of archeology at the museum, describes himself as a paleo-ethno-botinist. His research into what was on the Fremont menu started with a look at stable carbon isotopes in human bone, animal skeletal remains, and microbiology, and then took a less appetizing turn.

"One of my specialties is the analysis of coprolites, which means desicated human poop," Riley said. "The reason they're interesting, at least to me, is because you can actually look at how people combined foods. All these other studies, like the plant remains from an archeological site, they could have accumulated over years, maybe even hundreds of years depending on the site. So you don't necessarily have an idea of the menus people were putting together. "

From the fecal remains, Riley put together a 4 course meal for visitors. He also used traditional wet cooking techniques that were common at the time (cooking with liquids in the pot such as steaming, etc.), and the results sound delicious.


"We had cattail shoot salad with spring onions, we had a dusky grouse breast with juniper berries and roast pinion nuts, and then a venison steak with roast pumpkin seeds and dried pumpkin flesh. The side accompaniment to the meat dishes was a cornmeal mush with parched amaranth seeds."

Because his research looked at diet over time, Riley said he was able to see some trends in eating during the Fremont’s time in the Western United States.

Riley said he hopes to make the recent dinner a museum tradition, possibly cooking in an Earth oven next time.