Twelve thousand years ago we were still learning what agriculture was. Jericho hadn’t been built yet, mammoths still existed, and some enterprising young person in the Middle East was starting to collect wheat and barley to make the first ever beer. That’s right, beer is older than the domesticated horse. And to go with your newly invented brew you could hop on over to the Greek Peloponnese peninsula and help yourself to a big helping of roast snail. You might need that beer.
But it turns out that land snails might need to be included in the list of ancient human domestications. Evidence suggests that humans were consuming snail meat in mass quantities all across Europe. One particular site at Franchthi Cave contained nearly 100,000 shells of over a dozen snail species, suggesting that not only were these slow-moving treats popular, but may have even been a staple of the local diet.
And it does make sense, in a way. Snails aren’t really known for being dangerous animals and killing one mostly consists of dropping a rock on it. Plus they’re easy to feed, easy to cook, and surprisingly nutritious.
The food was probably seasonal as snails prefer cooler damp climates. This might also explain why they practice eventually died out. Ten thousand years ago also coincided with the last dying gasps of the ice age and the climate around southern Europe was destined to become both drier and hotter, demoting the snail from a stable food crop into an occasional delicacy. The long, dry summers would just get hotter and hotter.
Good thing we had that beer.