Reconstructing Recipes: Stable Isotope Analysis of Food Residues from a Year-long Cooking Experiment
Charred food residues provide a unique window into ancient peoples’ culinary cultures, and chemical analyses of burnt meals can help us identify the ingredients used to create specific recipes. However, limited experimental work leaves us wondering - when we find residue in an ancient pot, are we viewing the remains of the final meal cooked in that pot or is it the product of multiple recipes? Does the chemical signature of the residue accurately reflect the meal(s) cooked in that pot? Seven archaeologist-cooks each prepared a distinct recipe, in the same ceramic (un-glazed) pot, once a week for a year, and periodically sampled the charred residues for stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen. During the final weeks, the cooks swapped recipes to see if the final meal would "over-write" the previous year’s cooking events, or if the chemical signature of those earlier meals would be retained. Our isotopic data show a consistent relationship to each recipe’s ingredients. However, the isotopic data from the final residue collection indicate the charred material was not only from the last recipe cooked but retained material from earlier cooking events. Therefore, archaeologists are cautioned in interpreting charred pottery residues as they potentially reflect multiple meals.
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Reconstructing Recipes: Stable Isotope Analysis of Food Residues from a Year-long Cooking Experiment. Sophia Maline, Melanie Miller, Jillian Swift, Christine A. Hastorf. Presented at The 82nd Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Washington, DC. 2018 ( tDAR id: 442834)
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Abstract Id(s): 21193