This post is part 6 of 6 in a series on Useable Pasts: Archaeological Insights Into Diet and Food Security.

What’s wrong with our modern methods of agriculture?

Food security is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Feeding the world is becoming increasingly difficult, and as populations grow and the climate becomes increasingly unpredictable, methods that have worked to increase productivity in the past (such as land expansion, fertilisers, and harsh pesticides) are simultaneously becoming less sustainable (Reed and Ryan, 2019: 1). Currently, more than a billion people are undernourished, and this number is only set to…

This post is part 5 of 6 in a series on Useable Pasts: Archaeological Insights Into Diet and Food Security.

Were plant based diets common in the past?

Despite commonly held beliefs that the diets of the past were meat heavy, partly or entirely plant based diets have a long basis in archaeological fact, with evidence for them spanning from the Palaeolithic right through to present day. An archaeological study of ancient Egyptian mummies, dating from between 3500 B.C. and 600 A.D, found that their diet was more or less constant over time, and almost entirely vegetarian. Across the ocean…

This post is part 4 of 6 in a series on Useable Pasts: Archaeological Insights Into Diet and Food Security.

Did our ancestors drink alternative milks?

It may surprise you to learn that while demand for alternative milks may seem like a relatively modern trend, their popularity is actually nothing new. There is evidence of soy milk being used in cooking as early as 165 BC (Metheny and Beaudry, 2015: 162), and we know that by the 18th century it was popular enough to be sold by street hawkers. Similarly, coconut milk is thought to date back to at least…

This post is part 3 of 6 in a series on Useable Pasts: Archaeological Insights Into Diet and Food Security.

How long have humans been eating dairy?

In September 2019, archaeologists discovered the earliest direct evidence for the consumption of milk, in the form of milk proteins embedded in the dental plaque of Neolithic farmers dating to around 6000 years ago. The samples, which were taken from several different Neolithic sites, suggest dairy consumption was already a widespread dietary practice at this time — this is supported by circumstantial evidence (such as milk proteins found in ceramic vessels), which pushes…

This post is part 2 of 6 in a series on Useable Pasts: Archaeological Insights Into Diet and Food Security.

What is the Paleo diet? Would our palaeolithic ancestors recognise it?

The Paleo diet is supposedly based on the eating habits of our Palaeolithic ancestors, working on the assumption that they were hunter gatherers subsiding on meat, berries, nuts and other foraged or hunted food sources. While the followers of the Paleo diet are generally not going out and hunting for food themselves, they do attempt to avoid foods that would not have been available to our ancestors, such as…

This post is part 1 of 6 in a series on Useable Pasts: Archaeological Insights Into Diet and Food Security.

How long have alternative diets been around?

Alternative diets may seem like a modern invention, but they have actually been around for much of history! While some practises such as Hippocrate’s recommendation that individuals looking to improve their health induce vomiting after full meals, only drink cold wine, and eat only dry food were strange and wonderful (Foxcroft, 2012), many ancient ways of eating would not be out of place in a modern lifestyle magazine. For example, in Ancient Greece…

Caitlin Nathan-Maister

MSc Archaeology student at Oxford University

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