Archaeology of food at AIA

Elifant found much of interest in the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America Archaeology of food at held last week in New Orleans. 

Some highlights:

  • With the help of GIS, the Pompeii Food and Drink Project  has plotted the bakeries of Pompeii.  They have determined that the average Pompeian was no more than a 2-minute walk from a bakery.  While clearly providing a dietary staple, these bakeries must still have been competitive with one another and provided the locals with a range of options.

  • Notwithstanding the easy availability of bread, it appears that poor Italians ate a wider variety of foodstuffs than previously imagined.  And they ate more animal-based protein than imagined.  Pork was prominent on the menu, along with chicken, fish, and shellfish; little beef was consumed. 

  • The Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabiae continues to explore the patterns of food production and consumption of an important non-elite sector of the town.  Some of you will remember that a highlight of last year’s meeting was the report by director Steven Ellis on the excavation’s discovery of a giraffe bone—was this an animal slaughtered in the arena and then eaten for dinner?

  • From Bronze Age frying pans to Roman grinding stones for grain, ancient Mediterranean peoples displayed their ethnic roots and social status by the way they cooked and consumed food.  It seems a cliché, but it remains very much true that “we are what we eat.” And as a corollary, studying ancient food and “foodways” provides an unparalleled insight into that culture.