Plant foods, stone tools and food preparation in prehistoric Europe: An integrative approach in the context of the ERC funded project PLANTCULT
The transformation of food ingredients into meals corresponds to complex choices resulting from the interplay of environmental and cultural factors: available ingredients, technologies of transformation, cultural perceptions of food, as well as taste and food taboos. Project PLANTCULT (ERC Consolidator Grant, GA 682529) aims to investigate prehistoric culinary cultures from the Aegean to Central Europe by focusing on plant foods and associated food preparation technologies spanning the Neolithic through to the Iron Age. Our paper offers an overview of the lines of investigation pursued within the project to address plant food preparation and related stone tool technologies. The wide range of plant foods from the area under investigation (ground cereals, breads, beer, pressed grapes, split pulses etc.) suggests great variability of culinary preparations. Yet, little is known of the transformation technologies involved (e.g., pounding, grinding, and boiling). Changes in size and shape of grinding stones over time have been associated with efficiency of grinding, specific culinary practices and socioeconomic organisation. Informed by ethnography and experimental data, as well as ancient texts, PLANTCULT integrates archaeobotanical food remains and associated equipment to address these issues. We utilize a multifaceted approach including the study of both published archaeological data and original assemblages from key sites. We aim to develop methods for understanding the interaction of tool type, use-wear formation and associated plant micro- and macro- remains in the archaeological record. Our experimental program aims to generate (a) reference material for the identification of plant processing in the archaeological record and (b) ingredients for the preparation of experimental plant foods, which hold a key role to unlocking the recipes of prehistory. Plant processing technologies are thus investigated across space and through time, in an attempt to explore the dynamic role of culinary transformation of plant ingredients into shaping social and cultural identities in prehistoric Europe.
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