Monday, 20 January 2014

Archaeology of food: devising a new module

Grinding cereal grains on a quern stone
I will start teaching a new module this week at UCD School of Archaeology. The module is entitled "Archaeology of food", and it will run for 12 weeks. It is the first time that this topic has been taught as a stand-alone module at UCD, and I'm really looking forward to starting.

There are many questions that archaeologists can ask about food. What foods were people eating in the past, how were these foods prepared, and what does this tell us about daily lives, cultural values and social interactions? The "Archaeology of food" module will investigate the archaeology, anthropology and history of food through a range of disciplinary perspectives around the world.

Food waste recovered from archaeological excavations provides key evidence for changing resources at different times and locations. Typical food waste recovered during archaeological excavations includes animal bone and the remains of plants, such as seeds, nutshell and tubers. Micro-remains, including plant phytoliths and starch grains, can also survive on tools used to process and prepare foods, such as stone tools and ceramic pots. Biochemical and osteoarchaeological analyses can enable insights into longer-term dietary choices, food-related activities and evolutionary patterns. We will also examine social anthropology studies, which highlight the importance of food in shaping social identities and behaviour.

The "Archaeology of food" module will consider strengths and drawbacks of each approach, and demonstrate how investigations of diet can contribute to wider archaeology research questions. The module will be taught through lectures, student-led seminars (discussions based upon recommended reading) and hands-on practical sessions, enabling students to try out ancient food preparation techniques. I will report back on our progress during the practical sessions.

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