Gloria London [+]
Ancient cooking pots are easily recognizable by their coarse crumbly texture. Nothing about these unappetizing, rough pots makes them easy to associate with meals known from ancient writings or iconographic representations. While numerous ancient texts mention meals, in almost every culture, drawings or narratives of feasts portray foods consumed by the upper echelons of society. What most people ate in tents, farms, and villages was rarely depicted graphically or preserved archaeologically. Ceramics –along with preserved flora and fauna material -- are one of the few material sources available to archaeologists that enable insights into ancient foodways and how the general population actually behaved, felt, and thought about food. Unlike ceramics, remnants of foods survive only through accidents or tragedies. Organic materials decomposes unless carbonized. Animal bones are fed to scavenging animals. As a result, cookware is often our only clue into the ancient meal and how it got to the table. To narrow the gap between the broken potsherd and the ingredients and flavours it contained, this comprehensive volume begins with how food was processed, preserved, cooked, and stored in pots in the ancient Near East, beginning in the Neolithic period. From the beginning, ceramic vessels were more than passive receptacles – they participated in turning grain and fruit into alcoholic beverages and milk into yogurt, butter, and other products that last for months. Unlike the sealed surfaces of modern materials, ancient pots were absorbent and permeable. Food residues became embedded in their porous walls, leaving memories of foods. Cooking pots were quintessential memory pots. They retain remainders of everything they held. To erase those memories required re-firing in kilns. Just as the smells and tastes of favourite foods stay with us for a lifetime, memories in pottery live for millennia. To address the interface between pots, texts, and daily life in antiquity, the book starts by looking at cooking practices in contemporary, traditional societies where modern conveniences such as electricity are not widely used. This research, known as ceramic ethnoarchaeology, relies largely the author’s own fieldwork. In all the book draws on five data sources: excavations; ancient and medieval texts; 20th century government reports; early accounts of potters; and ethnoarchaeological studies. The last 1/3 of the text is a ‘survey’ of Neolithic to current traditional cookware, gleaned from excavation reports, from the perspective of how it was made and used.