Palaeoenvironmental remains provide insight into past diets

Charred wheat grains. Note how much they swell when they are charred. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020
Charred broad beans. Beans would have been a staple component in the diet of a medieval peasant. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020
Charred peas from the palaeoenvironmental assemblage. © Copyright ARS Ltd 2020

We recently investigated a site in Warwickshire where a medieval ditch produced palaeoenvironmental evidence for what looks to be a domestic waste dump that included a large quantity of charred food remains. The bulk sample contained well over 500 cereal grains, the majority of which were wheat, however oats, barley, broad beans and peas were also present. Together these would have formed a staple part of the lower classes’ diet and were often consumed together in what was known as ‘pottage’. Pottage is simply another name for a thick soup or stew which was usually made with vegetables and grains, and thickened with oats. Occasionally it would have contained meat or fish, when available. Pottage could be kept on the stove for a number of days and was added to as more food became available. This produced a filling, ever-changing meal for the whole family which was usually eaten with bread.

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