Under the supervision of Dr. Michael O. Sugerman, Mary Larkum will test the hypothesis that the study of archaeological food remains is a useful method to investigate ancient ethnic groups. The presence or absence of specific food remains, such as pig bones, has been used as an indicator of ethnic boundaries in the archaeological record of Israel, Palestine and Jordan, a region also called the southern Levant. Larkum will research two different sources of data on dietary practices: (1) faunal remains (animal bones) using macroscopic skeletal analysis and (2) food residues extracted from cooking pottery using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) and gas chromatography-combustion-isotope ratio mass spectrometry (GC-C-IRMS). The bones and pottery were excavated at sites dating to the Iron Age II Period (1000 - 586 BCE) in the southern Levant. These sites were situated in regional kingdoms known historically as Ammon, Aram, Edom, Israel, Judah, Moab and Philistia.

In the food residue portion of this project Larkum focuses on animal products cooked in unglazed cooking pottery, a common Iron Age food preparation method, and specifically examines cooking pottery excavated from domestic floors for information about the non-ritual use of animal products in Iron Age homes. She also inventories the range of animals represented in each site's faunal assemblage for comparison with residue data. The study of cooking residues complements the dietary information obtained from faunal remains, and adds a deeper analysis of social practice to interpretations of ancient ethnicity. This research has the potential to broadly impact how archaeologists and historians think about ancient south Levantine peoples and the archaeological methods used to interpret ancient identity. Larkum will comment on the use of food remains as ethnic markers, contribute to debates on ancient food use, and provide new information about south Levantine cooking and the use of cooking vessels during the Iron Age. The combined use of organic residue and faunal analyses is a new approach to the study of ancient ethnicity, one that offers an opportunity to employ tried and tested analytical methods in an innovative way.

This project will make an intellectual contribution to three bodies of anthropological literature: the archaeology of ethnicity, the archaeology of the Levant, and the anthropology of food and nutrition. Comparing cooking and faunal data will examine the process of cooking as a culturally significant behavior, placing the discussion of regional food use into a larger context of food and culture in anthropology. Results of this research will be submitted for publication to peer-reviewed journals and edited excavation volumes, and presented at national anthropological conferences. An Internet database of reference sample GC/MS spectra will be made available for on-line use to benefit the scientific community. The Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant will provide Mary Larkum with valuable graduate student training in the analysis of chemical residues and archaeological fauna.

Project Report

Under the supervision of Dr. Michael O. Sugerman, Mary Larkum tests the hypothesis that the study of archaeological foodways is useful for the identification and delineation of ancient ethnic groups. The presence or absence of specific food remains, such as pig bones, has been used as an indicator of ethnic boundaries in the archaeological record of Israel, Palestine and Jordan, a region also called the southern Levant. Larkum researches two different sources of data on dietary practices: (1) faunal remains (animal bones) using macroscopic skeletal analysis and (2) food residues extracted from ceramic samples using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS). The bones and pottery were excavated at sites dating to the Iron Age II Period (1000 – 586 BCE) in the southern Levant. These sites were situated in regional kingdoms known historically as Ammon, Aram, Edom, Israel, Judah, Moab and Philistia. In the food residue portion of this project Larkum focuses on animal products cooked in unglazed, clay cooking pottery, a common Iron Age food preparation method, and specifically examines ceramic sherds excavated from domestic floors for information about the non-ritual use of animal products in Iron Age homes. She has processed two hundred and thirty pottery samples and twenty-seven reference samples of laboratory grade fatty acid standards using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. Larkum is currently analyzing the resulting data to identify compounds and make comparisons. She has also processed reference samples of twenty-seven laboratory grade fatty acid standards for comparison with residues derived from vessel samples. Larkum compares fatty acid data within sites, between sites and regionally. She will also compare residue data in relation to ceramic morphology to investigate cooking pottery function. Gas chromatographic results to date suggest that animal products (dairy and meat) were commonly processed in south Levantine cooking vessels. Fatty acids from plant oils and waxes are uncommon in the ceramic specimens analyzed for this project. However, Oleic acid (18:1), an eighteen-carbon unsaturated fatty acid, has been found in thirty-seven samples. This fatty acid is abundant in olive oil but it is also a component of animal fats, especially pork lard. Fatty acids with carbon chains between 21:0 and 32:0 (long-chain fatty acids) originate in the epicular waxes of plants. They are absent from all ceramic samples within the dataset. Faunal results to date show an abundance of Ovis sp. (sheep) and Capra sp. (goat) remains in all assemblages. Sus sp. (pig) bones and teeth are found in each faunal assemblage. However, they amount to less than ten percent of NISP (number of identified specimens) in all studied collections. Sites located at higher elevations feature larger numbers of Bos sp. (cow) and Sus sp. (pig) remains than assemblages from lowland excavations. Teeth from both wild boar (Sus scrofa scrofa) and domesticated pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus) have been found in highland collections, suggesting that populations may have exploited wild boar in addition to, or instead of, practicing pig husbandry. This data also suggests that south Levantine populations did not avoid swine during the Iron Age II although they were not the most frequently exploited taxon. Therefore it is unlikely that swine avoidance can be used archaeologically as a marker of ethnic difference during that time period. This research, when complete, has the potential to broadly impact how archaeologists and historians think about ancient south Levantine peoples and the archaeological methods used to interpret ancient identity. Larkum comments on the use of food remains as ethnic markers, contributes to debates on ancient food use, and provides new information about south Levantine cooking and the use of cooking vessels during the Iron Age. The combined use of organic residue and faunal analyses is a new approach to the study of ancient ethnicity, one that offers an opportunity to employ tried and tested analytical methods in an innovative way. This project will make an intellectual contribution to three bodies of anthropological literature: the archaeology of ethnicity, the archaeology of the Levant, and the anthropology of food and nutrition. Comparing cooking and faunal data will examine the process of cooking as a culturally significant behavior, placing the discussion of regional food use into a larger context of food and culture in anthropology. Dissertation results will be disseminated to communities of interest at archaeological conferences, via the Internet and by publication in excavation volumes, conference volumes and peer-reviewed journals. All data will be archived by Harvard University’s Dataverse Network Project (http://thedata.org/home) for dissemination to the scientific community and the public.

Agency
National Science Foundation (NSF)
Institute
Division of Behavioral and Cognitive Sciences (BCS)
Type
Standard Grant (Standard)
Application #
1038273
Program Officer
John E. Yellen
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
2010-11-15
Budget End
2012-10-31
Support Year
Fiscal Year
2010
Total Cost
$20,000
Indirect Cost
Name
University of Massachusetts Amherst
Department
Type
DUNS #
City
Amherst
State
MA
Country
United States
Zip Code
01003