Archaeology of Food

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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There is almost no field of scholastic endeavour revealing more about past diet and food habits than archaeology. The term itself is a wide one, now broken into various sub-disciplines, each yielding its tithe of fact and speculation. The work of Martin Jones (2007), to name but one, shows how archaeology can yield firm information that may then become the foundation for the most extensive hypotheses of behaviour, ritual, and psychology. When the detailed work of archaeologists is done (for instance, the identification of a seed or a bone), the data may be processed by others to double and redouble its value. Hence archaeobotanists might identify neolithic plant remains in Ireland but further grouping and analysis enables them to compare this package of seeds to the theoretical master package that embarked from the Near East where agriculture was first practised (see agriculture and food). The comparison allows speculation on how the agricultural revolution was disseminated and how it impacted on diet in various countries (by the time it got to Ireland, it is suggested, the package had lost much of its botanical spread and even the survivors were less vigorous and potent).