Reconstructing Past Foodways in the Late Epipalaeolithic and Early Neolithic of southwest Asia

Friday Lecture at Archaeology, by Associate Professor Tobias Richter, University of Copenhagen.


Archaeologists investigating the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture in southwest Asia between 14,500 – 8000 years ago, tend to talk about subsistence or subsistence economy, but surprisingly little about food. This goes hand in hand with seeking the causes of economic, social and cultural change in macro-scale evolutionary processes, rather than more bottom-up, small-scale transformations.

Recent work in anthropology has stressed the importance of food culture, foodways and the role of social bodies in the transformation and consumption of food stuffs. But how can we utilize such perspectives more productively to inform our understanding of the archaeological record? In this talk, I suggest using the concept of the châine opératoire as a heuristic tool to reconstruct past foodways and food practices in the Late Epipalaeolithic and early Neolithic of the Levant.

Using recent work by the Changing Foodways in Prehistoric Southwest Asia: Reconstructing food procurement, processing and cooking during the Epipalaeolithic-Neolithic transition project as an example, I want to suggest new ways towards a more nuanced understanding of human foodways in the human past.