Course Spotlight: Archaeology of Food


Our summer term course, MET ML 611, Archaeology of Food, with Dr. Karen Metheny, introduces students to the archaeological study of food and foodways in prehistoric and historic-period cultures, with a specific focus on how food was obtained, processed, consumed, and preserved in past times, and the impact of diet upon past human populations in terms of disease and mortality. Students will learn how archaeologists use a wide range of artifacts, plant remains, human skeletal evidence, animal remains, and other data to recover information about food use and food technology over time to reconstruct past foodways practices. This introduction will be followed by a survey of the archaeological evidence of foodways from the earliest modern humans to the first farmers to more recent historical periods. Key topics will include the domestication of plants and animals, feasting, the role of households in food production, and the archaeological evidence for gender and status in cooking, preparation areas, serving vessels, and consumption. The course highlights specific foodstuffs, staples, and beverages, such as cacao and chocolate, maize, wheat, barley, beer, wine, sugar, and tea in order to show not only the range of evidence that can be brought to bear, but also how the reconstruction of foodways can reveal critical information about past cultural practice, social structure, identities, and meaning across time and space.

We will hear from experts on the origin of beer and bread, and then debate the question of which came first. Students will select a specific food or beverage to study during the semester and will engage in weekly projects to investigate how that food or beverage was prepared and served during a daily meal or in ritual context, what tools and cooking techniques were used, what ingredients were needed, who would have prepared and/or consumed this food, and its social and cultural significance. Finally, students will research and prepare a food or duplicate a food technology.

MET ML 611, Archaeology of Food meets on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 9 pm, EST, from May 25 to July 1, 2021.

This class will be offered in fully remote format. Non-degree seeking students will find registration instructions here.

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