Stone Cooking Pits and Hide Tanning: Primitive Skills Inspiration


Welcome to the time of the woodstove. Stacking wood, cold mornings, copious amounts of tea, of winter dreaming. Welcome to book after book, abundant rest after another busy year, seeds, nuts, deer hunting season, eternal pots of stew.

It is that time of year again and it hit me before I was fully ready for it or expected it to come. As it gets colder, everything slows down, including my pace and thoughts. I welcome the season of reflection.

Some of the books I've been reading lately include Jean M Auel's Earth's Children series. You may be familiar with the first bestseller of that series, Clan of the Cave Bear.

Venison ready to roast in stone pit.

The story tracks Ayla (Cro-Magno), an orphan who lost her family in an earthquake, as she is taken in by Neanderthals and then is cast out of the clan and has to survive on her own while looking for her own people. The book has quite a cult following and though at times the human drama was a bit much (I just skipped a lot of Jondalar's waffling), it is also filled with interesting tidbits into how our European ancestors were possibly living 29,950 years ago.

This inspiration coupled with watching all 3 seasons of Live Free or Die (thanks to my friend Joan who sent me a thumb drive of the seasons), a show showcasing homesteading, rewilding, primitive skills, hunter gatherer and tracker/trapper lifestyles, invigorated me to dig in deeper into experimenting with primitive skills.

For example in Auel's final book in the Earth Children's series, The Land of Painted Caves, we read this excerpt about a stone cooking pit Ayla makes in order to steam meat. It sounded especially tasty and I was also inspired by seeing Matt in Season 3 of Live Free or Die demonstrate this technique after he successfully hunted a turkey.

Zelandoni had watched Ayla dig a hole in the ground with a small shoulder bone that had been shaped and sharpened at one end and used like a trowel. To remove the loose dirt, she transferred it by small shovelfuls onto an old hide; then gathering the ends together, she hauled the hide away. She lined the hole with stones, leaving a space not much bigger than the meat, then built a fire in it until the rocks were hot. From her medicine bag, she took out a pouch and sprinkled some of the contents on the meat; some plants could be both medicinal and flavorful herbs. Then she added some of the tiny rootlets growing out of the wood avens rhizome, which tasted like cloves, along with hyssop and woodruff.

She wrapped the red deer roast in the burdock leaves. Then she covered the hot coals in the bottom of the hole with a layer of dirt so they wouldn't burn the meat, and dropped the leaf-wrapped roast in the little oven. She piled wet grasses on top and more leaves, and covered it all with more dirt to make it airtight. She topped it with a large, flat stone that she had also heated over a fire, and let the roast cook slowly in the residual heat and its own steam.

"It wasn't just cooked meat," Zelandoni insisted. "It was very tender and had a flavor that I wasn't familiar with, but it tasted very good."

The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M Auel pgs 212,213

Stone Cooking Pit

While Ini didn't dig the hole using a shoulder bone, we did try to follow this description pretty closely. Here is our process.

Ini dug a hole and I lined it with a large stone that covered the entire bottom and then placed stones on the sides.

Next I made a fire and stoked it and added wood for 4 hours. I had a really good coal base and the rocks were really hot. One even popped and broke!

We defrosted the deer shoulder and coated it in salt and cracked pepper. I harvested herbs from the garden and put them on the meat. Herbs include yarrow, mugwort, lavender, and green onions. All of these herbs are surviving after many hard frosts!

Then we flipped it and put some pears and horseradish leaves in the mix.

At this point, the coals were ready! We put some dirt on top of them as to not burn the meat and then put the shoulder in.

We also harvested sweet potatoes today and tucked them around the shoulder that was wrapped in horseradish, comfrey and burdock leaves. A sweet little bundle!

Next we covered the bundle with dirt all the way up to the top edge of the rocks.

We then turned the top rocks onto the dirt- they were quite hot!

We put a large flat stone on top.

And then lit a fire on top of the stone to encourage the heat to stay in and to perhaps send some heat into the pit.

This roast has been cooking for 4 hours and we want to cook it for at least 6 hours. The longer the better, really, especially with a tougher meat like a deer shoulder. We have made cooking pits in the past, but never before have we lined them with stones and used dirt or a top stone! We're really curious to see how this turns out and will be sure to share updates in the comments after we dig in!

That's not all..

Hide Tanning

Also featured extensively in the Earth Children series is the hide tanning process. Over the summer, I practiced on a couple of hides and made my first buckskin!

My first buckskin I did over the summer. As soft as velvet. I smoked it after this so it remains soft and pliable even after it gets wet.

Luckily our friend Drew had gotten a deer this season and let us know to come pick up the hide. Perhaps I'll make a full post on the process at some point - although Wild Abundance has an awesome tutorial on their website.

Thanks, Drew!

First things first, one must flesh the hide once it's off the deer. This includes scraping off any residual meat and fat.

After the scraping is finished, you'll have a hide free of flesh. At this point, you can soak the hide in a lye solution or water in a 5 gallon bucket (agitate daily) to cause the hair side of the hide to slip the hair off and free up the membrane (layer beneath the hair.)

Today was a warm (75 degrees!) day and I felt inspired to work outside, but it will be freezing tomorrow with a low of 18! Not sure how quickly the next step of this process will move along, but happy to be engaging with these skills ancient humans were proficient at.

Many of us are seeking to regain these longstanding skills that have largely been forgotten in this day and age and I have to say it can be a lot of hard work, but it's sufficiently worth it. I'm thankful for Auel's books and the examples of so many humans who have blazed the trail before me.

Our connection with earth is such a gift and it is so rich. I give thanks and make it my life's work as a human to set an example of a healthy relationship with the earth.

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Good accomplishments @mountainjewel folks!! It's awesome to see you today <3 I hope your roast is delicious! Amazing work on the deer hide. I have been missing your blog for a while so I hope your house building has been great this year.


hey there @yogajill! good to see you too :) the roast was a bit undercooked so we cut pieces off and put them in the cast iron, but the flavor was phenomenal! will be honing this method more :) thanks for your well wishes, hope you are well too!

I used to love the Clan of the Cave Bear series - it's one of those books that probably piqued my interest about nature, resilience, and survival, as well as never believing the stories you are told. I also really identified with Ayla. I mean, so much of it is trashy love stuff but as I read it when I was a teenager that was totally fine haha. The way you're cooking meat is such a traditional way to do it in many cultures - the additions of herbs from your garden must have made it taste delicious!


yes! haha totally trashy love stuff, which i usually don't mind, but this was so much about swollen members seeking out the most crevice ... the language was a bit off for my taste lol cool you read them so young! not sure i would have had an interest then, but i am super interested now! yes, it's so cool that many people around the world still do cook like this. honing my technique!

Good to see a post from you!

I love the Earth's Children series and have all 6 of them. I've read them several times over. I was always fascinated by all the things Ayla knew and did.

Hope you post about how the deer meat came out.... And what you use the buckskin for.


hey there! cool! yeah it's an intriguing series - i loved it and will reference it for years to come, i'm sure. i wont make a post per say about how the deer came out, but i can tell ya now! it was a bit undercooked for our liking so we cooked it up a bit more in the cast iron. the flavor, however, was phenomenal! i will try this method again and perhaps put more hardwood in the fire to start to get some stronger coals. i'm excited to see what i use buckskin for as well. i have a guy not too far from me that has about 7 hides and i've put word out to hunters - and hopefully we'll get some deer this year. i may make a tunic, shorts, a breech cloth for ini -- so many possibilities. hope you're well and will have to stop by to see how your addition is doing!


So cool, making clothes from the hides!

It's coming along, but the weather has turned and it's a race we aren't sure we're going to win....

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Nice firepit! How was the meat? Love the herbs (lavendar will give it such a beautiful aroma...) and those sweet potatoes look quite tasty :) Haven't read this book series, I'll have to check the library, sounds very interesting :) Looking forward to seeing your first buckskin clothing! oxoxoxo love you


hey mamita! the meat was a bit undercooked for our liking so we threw it in the cast iron. the flavor was A-mazing! will definitely try this again and hone my skills at it. not a great sweet potato harvest this year, but the ones we do have are yummmmy! XOXO i may call ya for some design tips for my first buckskin pieces ;) love ya

Earth's Children all right! That's it! You know, I heard about that series of books maybe ten years ago, on Red Ice Radio. (Back then it was a super open-minded alternative station, but since then they've become super alt-right, so I can't recommend it any more.) Anyway, I remember hearing about these books, but forgot the essentials (titles, author, etc.) so I went back trying to find the right episode, or maybe do a search for the books, but to no avail. So now that you mentioned it I'm quite excited about recognizing it.

As for pit cooking, I'm just thinking hangi in New Zealand, and barbacoa, birria, or cochinita pibil in Mexico. Delicious! I'm sure if you do this a number of times you'll discover your perfect recipe, and bring it to perfection.

And congrats for not scraping too many holes into that hide! I know when I tried doing the same there was not much of it left at the end. Though admittedly, it was flimsy little rabbit skin.


sweet!! glad to help recall.. and yes!! soooo many traditional styles of cooking similar to this. i will def keep going until i get good at it! :) and thanks, yeah those holes you see were actually from our friend's arrow as he killed the deer. the next step - taking off the hair and grain layer is usually a bit trickier as far as not getting holes. last time bacterial decomposition actually made a couple of holes - it speeds up in the heat of summer. hopefully these cold temps will give this beginner an easier and more forgiving time :)


Wow, respect for bow-hunting the deer... AND killing it! You have awesome friends!

That must be quite an experience. A lot of it is banned in today's time unless you live in a secluded place free from all the rules, you can experience all of this.
In my country I guess I would be behind bars if I would give a pose with a animal skin and put it up anywhere...hehehe
Here in Oman the local people make goat meat which is called as Shuva, in a similar manner and it tastes very good.


wow that is wild! there are laws about when you can hunt where i live - it helps keep the animal populations strong. for many people here in the rural area hunting provides a good portion of their food so people literally live off of the land. in cities where it is illegal to hunt sometimes the deer populations become troublesome, so it is always about balance and of course we hunt with the greatest respect and gratitude for these amazing creatures. i wonder - are there wild animals left to hunt where you live? very cool to hear of the local way people use earthen pits to cook where you live! i love to hear that these traditions are alive and well in various parts of the world. <3


In cities for sure you don't find them but when we go interiors there are but again the laws are strict so there is absolutely no hunting permission. My Grandfather used to hunt in his young days and we have lot of stories from there and also some priceless possessions.