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Title: Roman diet and nutrition in the Vesuvian region : a study of the bioarchaeological remains from the Cardo V sewer at Herculaneum
Author: Rowan, Erica
ISNI:       0000 0004 5367 9133
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2014
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Abstract:
The Roman town of Herculaneum, due to its burial by the eruption of Vesuvius in AD79, provides the rare opportunity to study the diet of middle and lower class Romans living in an urban context in mid-1st century AD Italy. Knowledge concerning Roman diet, prior to the growth of bioarchaeology in the 1960s and 1970s, was derived from the ancient texts and focused primarily on the elite diet. The diets of the poorer classes have often been considered monotonous and unhealthy and consequently, malnutrition is believed to have been widespread in urban centres. Collaboration between the numerous sub-disciplines of bioarchaeology, including archaeobotany and zooarchaeology, has begun to take place amongst scholars working on the Vesuvian sites and diet is currently being studied using a more holistic approach. The ancient sources act as a secondary resource and it is now the physical food remains that play a crucial role in examining Roman diet and associated topics such as trade, health and nutrition. This thesis investigated the bioarchaeological remains from the Cardo V sewer that ran beneath the shop/apartment complex of Insula Orientalis II in Herculaneum. It is the first large scale study to combine both new and existing bioarchaeological material from Herculaneum in an effort to provide the site with its own bioarchaeological data set, particularly with regards to food and diet. In total, 220L of soil was examined for carbonized and mineralized seeds, seashells, eggshells and fish bones. 194 taxa were identified, included including 94 botanical, 45 fish, 53 shellfish and two bird taxa. 114 of the 194 taxa can be considered edible foodstuffs. The statements of the ancient authors concerning dietary diversity have been examined in light of these findings and found to be comparable. The material displayed little taphonomic bias when compared to Pompeian bioarchaeological assemblages. The excellent preservation of the material, combined with data from modern food sciences, has allowed for much needed interpretation to take place in the areas of health and nutrition. The variety of cereals, fruits and seafood indicate close connections with the nearby land and sea and consequently, the economic implications of such extensive resource exploitation have been considered. A nutritional analysis of the finds have shown that diets were nutrient dense and healthy, enabling the people of Herculaneum to achieve modern day stature as well as survive and recover from illness. Thus it can no longer be assumed that those of moderate means ate an unhealthy and monotonous diet, that malnutrition was widespread in urban centres, and finally, that descriptions of foodstuffs in the ancient sources apply only to the wealthy.
Supervisor: Robinson, Mark Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.647661  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Archeology ; Roman archeology ; Europe ; Economic and Social History ; Archaeology ; Roman ; Herculaneum ; Pompeii ; Italy ; food ; archaeobotany ; diet ; nutrition ; fish
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