F ood is a prime political tool; it has a prominent role in social activity concerned with relations of power. There are, to be sure, many other important things that can be said about food and many other valid perspectives for understanding its significance. However, the demonstration of this political dimension and the examination of its ramifications in different contexts lie at the heart of the "food and the status quest" theme explored in this volume. In an international multidisciplinary forum of this kind, where each of us brings different conceptual orientations, research goals, and methodological approaches, it is advisable to begin with a few remarks about the nature of a potential archaeological contribution to understanding food as a political tool, about the relevance to archaeology of investigating ancient societies from the perspective of the political dimension of food, and about my choice of subject and approach.
As a representative of the archaeological contingent among the contributors to this volume, I must acknowledge straight away that the data with which we grapple present us with several limitations peculiar to our field. We cannot observe people's behavior directly, we cannot ask them questions, and we are, in fact, left with only partially preserved remnants of material culture, food refuse, and