Francophiles and foodies may want to look away now, for it appears a staple of France’s oft-celebrated cuisine may in fact have been stolen from that perennial punch line of the snooty gastronome - the United Kingdom.
Archaeologists digging at the Mesolithic Blick Mead site, close to Stonehenge in Wiltshire, were shocked to discover the cooked leg of a frog among the charred remains of a fish and beef feast that is believed to have been prepared around 7,000 BC, at the tail end of the last ice age.
The discovery means that the French - far from being the inventors of the amphibious delicacy - are likely to have stolen it from British cuisine at some point in the 8,000 or so years between the Blick Mead banquet and the 12th Century AD - when church records first refer to frogs’ legs being eaten in France.
In fact, far from the primitive diet many would assume Britain’s Mesolithic and women endured, experts have actually compared dining at Blick Mead to a “Heston Blumenthal-style menu”.
Among the other delicacies believed to have been consumed at the site were trout, salmon, wild boar, red deer with hazelnuts, steaks of aurochs [the ancestor of domestic cattle], and a dish of fresh blackberries for pudding.
David Jacques, Senior Research Fellow in Archaeology at the University of Buckingham and the leader of the Blick Mead dig, said: “This is significant for our understanding of the way people were living around 5,000 years before the building of Stonehenge and it begs the question - where are the frogs now?”
The Blick Mead discovery isn’t the first time the authenticity of characteristic Gallic cooking has been called into question.
Records suggest the Chinese have been eating frogs' legs since at least the first century AD, while in 2007 archaeologists at the Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of the Sciences of the Czech Republic revealed they had discovered the remains of 900 frogs’ legs at a 5,000-year-old hill fort near Prague.
But with the Blick Mead site thought to have been settled between 6250BC and 7596BC – between 4,000 and 5,000 years earlier than the Czechs’ Kutná Hora-Denemark fort – it appears ice age Britons may well have been the first people in human history to consume frogs’ legs.
The Blick Mead dig, which continues for another week and will be turned into a BBC documentary upon completion, aims to confirm nearby Amesbury as the oldest continuous settlement in the UK.
The site already boasts one of the largest collections of flints and cooked animal bones in north-western Europe, with dig co-ordinator and Chairman of Amesbury Museum and Heritage Trust Andy Rhind-Tutt saying: “No-one would have built Stonehenge without there being something unique and really special about the area.”
He added: “There must have been something significant here beforehand and Blick Mead, with its constant temperature spring sitting alongside the River Avon, may well be it.”
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