The wikipedia article states that "The meat was cut in thin slices and dried, ...".

Well so, but how would the people who chased a heard of grazers down a cliff some 10k years ago cut the meat into thin slices to dry?

I have difficulties cutting meat into thin slices even with modern high performance steel knives.

What am I missing?

  • Given that a few sentences later it says it was pounded into tiny pieces after drying, it sounds like it doesn't matter all that much if the slices are thin or even, so I'd be suspicious the slices just weren't thin by modern standards. Do you happen to have any references that would clarify that? – Cascabel Apr 26 '16 at 18:29
  • @Jefromi well, the slices must have been thin enough to dry fast to avoid bacterial contamination (which need not come from the outside but may have been in the meat already --- no Pasteurization was applied at that time). – Gyro Gearloose Apr 26 '16 at 18:33
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    I wouldn't deduce too much based on assumptions about food safety standards, especially in societies that presumably didn't even know bacteria existed. – Cascabel Apr 26 '16 at 18:35
  • If I was to do this with today's tools, I'd cut the meat into chunks to fit into the deep-freezer, then cut them in tiny slices with a very sharp knife and (probably) dry them in the microwave oven. – Gyro Gearloose Apr 26 '16 at 18:37
  • @Jefromi "assumptions about food safety standards", OK, but the minimum standard would be that the pemmican would not turn into some green slime, which it would if the drying fails and time passes on. – Gyro Gearloose Apr 26 '16 at 18:42

You are missing the tiny detail that metal is not the only material which can provide sharp, cutting edges.

The reason the Stone Age got its name was the use of stone for tools. Both flint stone and obsidian, a volcanic glass can splinter with razor-sharp edges. Both the raw material and the tools made from them were highly prized goods and mined and traded in prehistoric times.

Even today, obsidian scalpels are still used for some surgical procedures, especially in cosmetic surgery. What works for a face lift in Hollywood should easily be good enough for pemikan - not that I'm comparing the two tasks.

Failing to obtain the stones, bone knifes from long leg bones would also have been able to handle the task of cutting thin meat strips quite smoothly.

Not for the squeamish:

This Youtube video shows the butchering of a deer with a simple, hand made obsidian "knife".

This video compares a flint and a bone knife.

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  • unfortunately, my computer can't stream videos. – Gyro Gearloose Apr 26 '16 at 19:42
  • @GyroGearloose, sorry to hear this, in that case, just stick to the text and be assured all three types would cut the meat strips easily. – Stephie Apr 26 '16 at 19:48
  • OK, I couldn't find no text but somehow I could see the video. No sound, due to my hardware. Now: what I saw was just what I already knew, At a time I'd cut of a wild rose with my door key for my wannabe-lovely to stick it to her car windscreen wiper. So I know the difference between finger nails and tools. But the video does not explain how to cut slices thin enough to dry reasonably fast. – Gyro Gearloose Apr 26 '16 at 20:03
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    The thinness of the slices depends on a) the sharpness of the tool and b) the skills of the person wielding it. I have shown you a), let's assume our prehistoric ancestors posessed b). – Stephie Apr 26 '16 at 20:19
  • @Stephie It sounds like the important other thing to note is that you don't actually need perfect deli-style slices, so there's plenty of room for imperfect tools or skill. – Cascabel Apr 26 '16 at 21:45

Flint and obsidian tools can be surprisingly sharp, but the main factor is probably that there's no need for tidy slices. Little shavings would dry quickly in the sun and as the meat was to be processed further, it wouldn't matter that the pieces were small. In addition, some pounding could have been done to make small chunks flatter.

If the meat was dried over a fire, the air may have been warm enough to affect bacterial growth; smoke would also have helped. Fire-assisted drying could have worked on thicker slices because the heat would be reliable including at least some of overnight, and hotter than in the sun. Presumably sun drying would only have been done in reliably warm conditions, when drying would have happened quickly. In either case the surface temperature could well have been high enough to inhibit growth of nasties even if not hot enough to truly pasteurise.

So while traditional methods and tools may not meet modern hygiene standards they could still be good enough, especially if failure could be detected. Assuming the fat was melted before mixing, a further pasteurisation-like step would take place.

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