From the Director (Winter 2019)

This article appeared in ISAW Newsletter 23, Winter 2019.

Eating and drinking, and the social practices associated with them, are activities that both unite all civilizations of the past and present and help to define their diversity. How do we learn about them? This issue of the ISAW Newsletter features research and teaching at our Institute that illuminate the roles of food and drink in ancient societies across the continents.

From the third millenium BCE, Beate Pongratz-Leisten examines the concept of abundance symbolized by the palm tree at Nimrud. At Bashtepa (Uzbekistan), Sören Stark and his colleagues have found abundant remains from which the diet of a Hellenistic and Post-Hellenistic Central Asian community can be reconstructed, revealing not only aspects of a way of life but also a local environment that must have been radically different from Bashtepa’s present desert surroundings. A few centuries earlier and further west, ISAW doctoral student Lorenzo Castellano’s palaeobotanical analyses of materials from Lorenzo d’Alfonso’s excavation at Kınık Höyük (Cappadocia, Turkey) point to a flourishing local wine industry, unique for central Anatolia in this period. A different kind of evidence, not from the remains of what people ate but from human teeth and bones, leads Visiting Assistant Professor Daniela Wolin to clues to the nutrient deficiencies in the diet of late second millennium BCE China.

Teaching gives ISAW’s faculty and students the opportunity to embed and contextualize their own work within that of other present and past scholars. Two graduate seminars described in this issue relate in different ways to the theme of ancient food and drink. Lorenzo d’Alfonso’s forthcoming seminar will explore the production, circulation, and consumption of wine and beer in the eastern Mediterranean and western Asia. Overlapping this in geography, but contrasting in scope, Claire Bubb’s recent seminar was devoted to medical-scientific and societal perspectives on food and diet in the Greco-Roman world.

In the light of this cornucopia of teaching and research at ISAW, it is especially timely that Dorian Fuller, Professor of Archaeobotany at University College, London, will present this year’s Rostovtzeff Lectures series in March and April on Feeding Civilizations: A Comparative Long-Term Consideration of Agricultural and Culinary Traditions across the Old World. In four lectures whose topics span several millennia and regions from Subsaharan Africa to China, Professor Fuller will offer a framework for seeing the development of agriculture and cooking in the ancient world both as prerequisites for civilizations to exist and causes of their differentiation.