Pudding Seminar: Miranda Evans (PhD, Archaeology), The Proteomics of Pottery: What can dirty dishes tell us about ancient cuisine?

Food is probably the most tangible part of our daily lives yet one of the most difficult to unravel in the archaeological record. Food is not only essential for survival, but also an important aspect of culture, and can reveal information on technological advances, trade and migration. While several methods exist to detect ingredients, including the analysis of archaeological plant and animal remains, evidence for food preparation practices, or “recipes” often relies on historic sources, which (if they exist at all) are usually written by and for the elite, rarely reflecting what normal people ate. Protein analysis of ceramics and their residues is becoming a popular method for interpreting ancient diet and culinary practice, as it can sometimes provide taxonomically and tissue specific evidence – revealing ingredients and occasionally even food preparation practices. In this Pudding Seminar I will present three case studies from my doctoral research, exploring what protein analysis of pottery residues can tell us about ancient diet and cuisine. Firstly, proteomics was used to detect ingredients processed throughout the Roman occupation of Northstowe, a rural hinterland site in modern Cambridgeshire, revealing a shift in dairy species husbandry. Secondly, by using modern comparative analogues, proteomic analysis was used to investigate the practice of cheesemaking in late Neolithic central Poland. Lastly, as a relatively young archaeological method, we remain ignorant of many of the preservational biases which impact proteomic analysis of ceramic residues. Thus, I explore the impact of cooking and burial on experimental samples to assess the biases that these actions introduce to protein results, providing food for thought for future archaeological interpretations.

Miranda Evans is a final year PhD student at the Department of Archaeology and a Cambridge Trust International Scholar. She holds a Bachelor of Science (Anatomy/Geography) and a Bachelor of Arts (Archaeology) from the University of Sydney, Australia, and spent time on exchange at the University of Edinburgh during her undergraduate studies. While completing her bachelor’s degrees she worked in the commercial archaeology sector, and upon moving to the UK, in museum collection management. Before starting her PhD at Newnham, she was a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Early-Stage Research Assistant on the TEMPERA European Training Network at the University of York under the supervision of Dr. Jessica Hendy, where she developed a passion for ancient protein studies. Her doctoral research investigates the proteomic analysis of pottery, and its application to understanding ancient diet and cuisine, supervised by Drs’ Tamsin O’Connell, Matthew Collins, Martin Millett, and Jessica Hendy (external).

All staff, students, senior members and alumnae are very warmly invited to attend the Pudding Seminars. Talks usually last between 20-25 minutes, followed by time for questions, comments and discussion before we finish at 1.50pm, to allow people to get to 2pm appointments. Please note that coffee and cake will be available from 1 o’clock with the seminar starting promptly at 1.15pm. Details of all our seminars can be found at: https://www.newn.cam.ac.uk/research/pudding-seminars/forthcoming-pudding-seminars/