Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.07.46

David Collard, Jim Morris, Elisa Perego (ed.), Food and Drink in Archaeology 3: University of Nottingham Postgraduate Conference 2009.   Totnes:  Prospect Books, 2012.  Pp. 149.  ISBN 9781903018781.  £30.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Penelope Allison, University of Leicester (

[The Table of Contents is listed at the end of the review.]

This is a collection of articles selected from the presentations and posters at a postgraduate and early career researcher conference held at the University of Nottingham in 2009. It includes twelve short articles which, according to the preface, constitute half of the conference papers, as well as four shorter contributions resulting from conference posters. There is no evident organisation of these articles. Because of their number, I will not examine each article individually but rather discuss them according to their apparent approaches.

Firstly, though I would like to point out that the geographical and chronological spread, although wide as highlighted by the editors, is also concentrated in certain areas. There are two articles about South America: one on the importance of fish in coastal diets and in symbolism throughout Brazilian prehistory (Okumura and Eggers); and one short contribution on changing ceramic assemblages for identifying food-processing and food-storing practices in the southern Andean highlands from c. 2400 – 1300 BP (Vidal). There is also one article on ancient Indian art, investigating representations of drink and drunkenness and covering a wide chronological range (Hadap and Hadap). However, the other thirteen articles are all on Europe and the Mediterranean region, with the bulk of the articles (eight) concerning the latter region. Three of these are on ritual and festive food, drink and drug consumption in the Bronze Age: in Crete (Campbell-Green and Michelaki); in Cyprus (Collard); and in Turkey (Popkin). Closely related, geographically and chronologically, are: Samartzidou’s paper in meat consumption in Neolithic Macedonia; Fox’s paper on feasting in Iron Age Greece; and Perego’s on funerary dining in Iron Age Italy. The two articles dealing with Spain are more diverse chronologically: one on the range of uses of faunal material in Neolithic and Chalcolithic household contexts (Vidal and Maicas); and the other on ‘cold-drinking’ in the 16th-century (Hernández). The remaining articles concern: food diversity in Mesolithic Scotland (Pickard and Bonsall); the processing and storing of grain in eastern England during 3rd-4th centuries CE (Parks); ritual vessel types in 1st-5th century CE Norway (Rødsrud); different types of spoons found across prehistoric Europe (Vidal and Soledad Mallia); and feasting in 4th- 3rd millennium BCE Mesopotamia (Whalen).

So the geographical and chronological spreads are indeed wide but with a specific focus on the Mediterranean region. Despite this focus, however, there is a glaring omission, chronologically, which comprises the Classical and Hellenistic Greek worlds and most of the Roman world. This omission would seem to be an area that is particularly pertinent to the readers of this series. This lacuna is not necessarily a criticism of the editors of this volume and is rather a symptom of the paucity of this type of scholarship in the classical Greco-Roman world. In this respect, one might argue, that this volume has a lot to offer scholars of the Greek and Roman archaeology, particularly in terms of approaches to material culture and bioarchaeological remains.

Within this geographical and chronological spread there appear to be two main groups into which the articles in this volume can be divided and which essentially demonstrate these material-cultural and bioarchaeological approaches – the type of food and drink consumption and the type of context. I will, therefore, treat these groups together and focus my discussion on them. Firstly, many of the articles discuss ritual and festive food-consumption activities and are based on burial contexts. Interestingly, all of the Bronze and Iron Age Mediterranean articles are focused on ritual and festive consumption, of food, alcohol and opium, as pertaining to or evidenced in burial remains (i.e. articles by Campbell-Green and Michelaki, Collard, Fox, Perego, Popkin). Rødsrud’s article on prehistoric Norway also discusses ritual drinking vessels found in burial contexts. Among the Mediterranean articles, Campbell-Green and Michelaki analyse ceramic assemblages from the Early to Middle Bronze Age tholos cemetery at Moni Odigitria in Crete to argue for the prominence of drinking in funerary rites that continue after the original burial. Collard discusses the role of alcohol consumption and opium taking in mortuary rituals to provide an altered state of consciousness for communing with the dead. Fox draws together iconographical information from Late Bronze Age and Iron Age vases, metal vessels and spits in burials, and Homeric epics to argue for the elite status of feasting in Early Iron Age Greece. Perego analyses the use of food-consumption, material-culture, and symbolism in burials Iron Age Veneto (Italy) to argue for the deceased as ‘metaphorical food’. Popkin’s paper, while concerned with ritual feasting, is perhaps the odd one out here. It involves the burial of a sacrificed animal, rather than human burial, in a settlement context, in what was possibly a public building at the Late Bronze Age site of Kilise Tepe (Turkey). And while Whalen’s paper on Uruk Mesopotamia is again on feasting it also examines evidence from settlement contexts, to argue for a change in alcohol consumption practices in the late 4th millennium BCE – from beer drinking in public spaces to more private wine drinking in both élite and non-élite houses. The other articles concerned with settlement and, perhaps understandably, midden sites focus on earlier periods and on diet and nutrition (i.e. articles by Okumura and Eggers, Pickard and Bonsall, and Samartzidou). Thus, there is a distinctive thematic separation between a very strong concern among the authors of the later prehistoric and proto-historical articles in this volume for food consumption in funerary and commemorative contexts on ritual and festive occasions, and a concern among those writing about earlier periods for ‘everyday’ diet within ‘lived’ contexts. This is what might be expected given the nature of the evidence from such different periods of prehistory. However, they also demonstrate the quite different approaches to concepts of food consumption, which feature as prominent themes in studies of food and drink across the archaeological discipline.

Standing outside these main approaches in archaeological food-consumption studies – ritual and festive, and nutrition and diet – are the articles by Parks, Hernández, Hadap and Hadap, and three articles authored, and joint authored, by Vidal. These are the articles that, in my opinion, are the more interesting in this volume in their attempts to break the predictable moulds for food and drink studies in archaeology and to try out more innovative approaches to different types of questions.

Park’s paper is noteworthy as the only ‘classical’ article. This paper is also noteworthy for its examination of structural and archaeobotanical remains from a Roman period site in Cambridgeshire in Britain to investigate the small-scale labour forces and processes involved in growing and storing grain, and in the production of beer.

Hadap and Hadap’s paper has a classical reference, in setting out to demonstrate a connection between foodways practices in ancient India and those in the west. They argue that there is ample evidence in art, literature and archaeology that the drinking of alcohol and drunkenness were commonplace in ancient India, among both men and women (including élite women). They use iconographical representations of ‘inebriates’ in ancient art (e.g. girls drinking and playing the flute, and the style of their clothing, and archaeological evidence (drinking cups and Roman amphorae) to argue that contact with Mediterranean may have played a part in the practice of drinking alcohol, and its resulting drunkeness. While the argument is appealing, the combining together here of rather different Greek and Roman gendered practices, and the frustrating lack of illustrations, indicates that this is very much a work in progress.

Hernández’s paper is not essentially archaeological but does include a focus on classical reception in its demonstration of the influence of Galen’s medical texts on attitudes to health and to cold drinks during Renaissance Spain. Hernández examines 16th-century Spanish treatises to show how attitudes to drinks chilled with snow gradually changed from early 16th-century perspectives that this was a dangerous practice, particularly for women, children and the elderly, and associated with gluttony, to late 16th-century attitudes that it was indeed a healthy practice. Hernández uses this study as a salutary lesson on changing medical opinion and on the significance of attitudes to eating and drinking practices in the past.

Last but not least, and for me the most interesting, are the articles by Vidal, Vidal and Maicas, and Vidal and Soledad Mallia, who have taken the most novel approaches to material-cultural and zooarchaeological remains in archaeological contexts in this volume. The first, by Vidal and Maicas, examines the many uses for animal products in prehistoric households in Spain, uses which are not specifically as foodstuffs but are related to food processing and food consumption – e.g. bone tools, skin covers for jars, animal fats for burnishing pottery, and talismans. While none of these uses are essentially new to modern scholars, this article presents a holistic approach to faunal remains and their significance to household practices. It is also an important general reminder that plant and animal products had, and still have, many uses beyond food. The second article, by Vidal, combines archaeobotanical information on changing plant consumption patterns with changing types of food-storage and food-processing vessels at Casa Chávez Montículos, in northwest Argentina. Unfortunately the graph (Figure 15.2) does not demonstrate the differences claimed but the concept of an integrated approach to different types of foods and food processes and different types of vessels is an intriguing one. And the final article by Vidal and Soledad Mallia takes a novel approach to a little researched utensil, the spoon. This paper shows the wide geographical spread of this utensil throughout European prehistory and the different types of materials that spoons could be made from.

Another important aspect of the articles in this volume is their integrated approach to textual and material-cultural evidence. This is notable in the Mediterranean articles, and also in the articles by Hadap and Hadap (India) and Rødsrud (Norway). While many of these use contemporary written sources (e.g. Fox’s use of Homer, and Hadap and Hadap’s use of Vedic literature and classical Sanskrit texts), the articles by Campbell-Green and Michelaki , Collard, Popkin and Rødsrud draw on later texts, and on evident practices, for a more ethnoarchaeological approaches.

There many interesting and thought-provoking ideas in this volume, and some useful illustrations, that both provide information on and exemplify to food and drink in the past. However, as short conference papers by postgraduates and early career researchers many of the projects and their results are exploratory.

Table of Contents

T. Campbell-Green and F. Michelaki, ‘Cemeteries, Ceramics and Space: Food Consumption and Ritual at the Early Bronze Age Tholos Cemetery of Moni Odigitria, South Central Greece’
D. Collard, ‘Drinking with the Dead: Pyschoactive Consumption in Cypriote Bronze Age Mortuary Ritual’
R. Fox, ‘Symbols of the Feast: Élite Ideology and Feasting Practices in Early Iron Age Greece’
N. Hadap and S. Hadap, ‘Intoxicating Drinks and Drunkards in the Ancient Indian Art, Literature and Archaeology’
J. Hernandez, ‘A New Renaissance Medical Controversy: Sixteenth-Century Polemics About Cold-Drinking’
M. Okumura and S. Eggers, ‘Living and Eating in Coastal Brazil during Prehistory’
E. Perego, ‘Between Sacrifice and Consumption: the Deceased as Metaphorical Food in Iron Age Veneto’
C. Pickard and C.Bonsall, ‘A Different Kettle of Fish: Diversity in Mesolithic Scotland’
P. Popkin, ‘The Recognition and Interpretation of a Singular Late Bronze Age Animal Sacrifice Event at Kilise Tepe, Turkey’
C. Rødsrud, ‘Triple Cups and Bird-Shaped Pottery: Ritualized Feasting-Goods from Norwegian Graves, Dating from the First to the Fifth Centuries AD’
A. Vidal and R. Miacas, ‘Animals in the Household: Not Just a Foodstuff’
J. Whalen, ‘Feasting and the State in Uruk Mespotamia’
K. Parks, ‘Cleaning Grain and Making Beer: Analysis of a Third- to Fourth-Century AD Archaeobotanical Assemblage from Bottisham, Cambridge’
E. Samartzidou, ‘The Fauna of the Neolithic Lakeside Settlement of Dispilio, Greek Macedonia’
A. Vidal, ‘Eating, Processing and Storing Food in Arid Andean Highlands’
A. Vidal and M. Soledad Mallia, ‘Prehistoric Spoons: Their Representations in Time and Space’
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