3 Surprising Discoveries From the Archaeology of Food

Agricultural China
The domestication of grains is richly preserved in the archaeological record of China and elsewhere, in the landscape, in preserved grains, and in the genetic stories hidden inside. (Photo by Jodi Cobb)

Deep in the pit, a thin cloud of dust and dirt makes visible the shaft of light shining down from the setting sun. The top of the tomb is opened. Images of the ancient objects inside reflect in the wide eyes of the excavators.

Boy, I hope they find some charred millet grains.

The archaeology of food is filling in the gaps between all the grand monuments and intricately crafted objects that occupied researchers and the public for generations.

This week at the 2015 Dialogue of Civilizations in Beijing, top archaeologists working at sites all around the world have gathered to see what more they can discover about each civilization by learning more about them all.

Here are some of the surprising ways food is spicing up the conversation.

1. You Are What You Eat (and Drink)

The teeth of this skull from the Roman city of Herculaneum contain strontium isotopes that could help researchers pinpoint the person’s location of bird. (Photo by Luis Mazzatenta)

As water percolates through the ground and runs over the landscape, it picks up a sample of elements from that area’s rocks and soils. Slack your thirst and a sample of those elements with their distinct proportion of isotopes are then incorporated into your body. The same can happened from eating other animals or plants that drank-in the water.

Tang Jigen of Peking University made use of this to show that humans sacrificed to be buried with Bronze Age Shang Dynasty rulers had been born far away and had continued to live in those regions at least until shortly before their death.

Earlier researchers had seen these sacrifices as evidence —> Read More