Friday, 15 March 2013

Feeling peckish?

Food is a difficult topic for archaeologists. Not because we are notoriously picky about our food or because we don't appreciate it. In fact, archaeologists are more like locusts only with an even wider spectrum of what they eat, a rather larger belly than your average locust has and an additional penchant to swipe bits of the buffet decoration if it is properly archaeology-themed.

Food is a difficult topic because it's so perishable. It's a very rare thing to find food residue in an archaeological excavation; a bit similar to textiles: you can find tools (spindle whorls or pots), sometimes you find tiny little bits of evidence pointing roughly in a direction (like a small bit of fabric that allows you to determine fibre type and weave, or charred and thus preserved grains that allow you to determine the species), and very very rarely, in a very lucky situation, you find something that really allows you to reconstruct a tiny part of daily life back in history (such as an almost complete garment, or the residues of a meal that can be analysed completely).

In some cases, we know what was eaten - charred grains, animal bones and fish bones can give a hint as well as the pits and stones of fruit. But we still don't know how stuff was combined, and much of the evidence is not collected at all, because the small bits (fishbone? grape pit? both really small) can only be found if the soil is put through fine sieves or even sluiced to recover small bits. That's a lot of work, needs the appropriate equipment, and is usually only done for a very small part of the excavation where there is a high probability of a good yield of small stuff, if at all.

All that said, here is a link to a blog/webpage where someone has collected the archaeological evidence for food finds in Britain, making it available via web and a database. Go foodies!

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