Bioarchaeology and Paleopathology in Culinary History

Archaeology Skeletons

(I’m dedicating this post to my mother, Barbara A. Purdy, a great archaeologist, whose passion for “old stuff” rubbed off on me, I guess.)

A brief foray into the world of Sicilian mummies proved once more that food writers can learn a lot from silent “interviewees.”

The trick lies, of course, in understanding unspoken language and signs.

Two interesting resources providing guidelines for this understanding include the following:

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Paleopathology, by Arthur C. Aufderheide and Conrado Rodriguez-Martin (1998):

The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Paleopathology is a major reference work for all those interested in the identification of disease in human remains. Many diseases leave characteristic lesions and deformities on human bones, teeth and soft tissues that can be identified many years after death. This comprehensive volume includes all conditions producing effects recognizable with the unaided eye. Detailed lesion descriptions and over 300 photographs and diagrams facilitate disease recognition and each condition is placed in context with discussion of its history, antiquity, etiology, epidemiology, geography, and natural history. Uniquely, diseases affecting the soft tissues are also included as these are commonly present in mummified remains.


The Archaeology of Disease, by Charlotte Roberts and Keith Manchester (2007):

The Archaeology of Disease shows how the latest scientific and archaeological techniques can be used to identify the common illnesses and injuries from which humans suffered in antiquity. Charlotte Roberts and Keith Manchester offer a vivid picture of ancient disease and trauma by combining the results of scientific research with information gathered from documents, other areas of archaeology, art, and ethnography. The book contains information on congenital, infectious, dental, joint, endocrine, and metabolic diseases. The authors provide a clinical context for specific ailments and accidents and consider the relevance of ancient demography, basic bone biology, funerary practices, and prehistoric medicine. This fully revised third edition has been updated and encompasses rapidly developing research methods in this fascinating field.

**For the next few weeks, I am going to be on a “working vacation,” so my posts will be somewhat more abbreviated. I will still provide you with something substantial to chew on, though!