Ancient Food Technology

Ancient Food Technology

Ancient Food Technology

Ancient Food Technology


Employing a wide variety of sources, this book discusses innovations in food processing and preservation from the Palaeolithic period through the late Roman Empire. All through the ages, there has been the need to acquire and maintain a consistent food supply leading to the invention of tools and new technologies to process certain plant and animal foods into different and more usable forms. This handbook presents the results of the most recent investigations, identifies controversies, and points to areas needing further work. It is the first book to focus specifically on ancient food technology, and to discuss the integral role it played in the political, economic, and social fabric of ancient society. Fully documented and lavishly illustrated with numerous photographs and drawings, it will appeal to students and scholars of both the arts and the sciences.


In January 1939, while excavating in the northern section of the Archaic cemetery at Sacjqara, Walter B. Emery discovered a rather humble tomb dating to the Second Dynasty (early third millennium B. C.). Denoted Tomb 3477, in size and intrinsic value of its contents it was rather unremarkable save in one respect. It had lain undisturbed from the time of the burial in it of a woman of about sixty years of age. Emery found there an almost perfectly preserved meal, laid out on dishes of pottery, alabaster, and diorite. Here was a near pristine example of a funerary meal found in other Early Dynastic burials, though none preserved so well as this nor so elaborate. Emery was excited because he believed that it proved what he had long suspected, that is, that early Egyptians as part of the funerary ritual included cooked meals with the deceased. Later tombs contained not only examples of food items but more frequently paintings, sculpture, and models of food and drink, which, apparently through a magical transformation, were intended to serve as gifts to the gods or as sustenance for the deceased throughout eternity.

Emery's interest lay more in the meal's symbolic importance than in the individual food items and what they can tell us about the state of Egyptian food technology. Foods found in Tomb 3477 fell into two general categories, those which were eaten in their natural state, whether cooked or raw, and those which had been processed in some fashion. In the former category were stewed fruit (possibly figs) and berries. Processed foods included grape wine, a triangular loaf of bread made from emmer wheat, circular honey-cakes, a sort of porridge of ground barley, various cuts and portions of beef, cleaned and dressed fish and fowl, a pigeon stew, and perhaps cheese. These processed foods showEgyptian knowledge of the principles of butchery, fermentation, milling, and cooking. Already, at the dawn of the historical period in Egypt, nearly 5,000 years ago, the Egyptian diet was both varied and technologically sophisticated.

Walter B. Emery, A Funerary Repast in an Egyptian Tomb of the Archaic Period (Leiden: Nederlands
Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten, 1962).

The typicality of a such a sumptuous meal is debatable. Cf. Hilary Wilson, Egyptian Food and
(Bucks: Shire Publications Ltd., 1988), p. 11.

Emery, Funerary Repast, p. 2.

Ibid., pp. 6–7. There was also an unidentifiable liquid made of some fatty substance. The
food items were identified by Alfred Lucas, at that time chemical advisor for the Egyptian Antiq
uities Service.

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