Cooking with Vikings

maude fire  At the Hearth with Helga (Maude Hirst)

I’m a Viking-Age archaeologist, interested in the everyday lives of people in early-medieval England, Scotland, and Scandinavia, which I try to understand through looking at their artefacts. I am most well-known for my work on what might seem an odd choice of artefact: Viking hair combs (I’ve already written elsewhere about why these are important, so I won’t bore you with that again here). I’m also interested in metalwork, particularly what we can say from the evidence recovered by metal detectorists (this builds on my previous life as a Finds Liaison Officer with the Portable Antiquities Scheme; if you don’t know about the PAS, do check it out). But most recently, I have started up a project that uses scientific analysis of pottery to learn about how people stored, prepared, cooked, and ate food in different parts of Viking-Age England.


Coffee and assorted bones

I’m starting off this morning in the lab, cup of coffee by my side, working with some borrowed museum collections.  This picture shows what I’m looking at right now:

Bones from the Navajo project

Photo copyright Emily Jones, 2011

These bones are from a site in northwestern New Mexico; the site was occupied (we estimate) around 1660 A.D., by historic Navajo (or Diné) peoples.  This is just one of a suite of sites I’m examining, all Navajo-affiliated, and all from the 16th and 17th centuries.  Most archaeologists think Athapaskan-speaking Native Americans (including the Navajo) entered the southwestern US in the 15th century, though some argue for earlier or later arrival.  Early on, it seems, the Navajo were mostly hunter-gatherer, maybe with a little agriculture, but at some point they adopted sheepherding with great enthusiasm.  I’m interested in learning about this transition in subsistence, which is why I’m analyzing the zooarchaeological remains from these sites.

So far, I’ve been really impressed with the diversity in subsistence strategy represented.  Many of these sites seem to be evenly split between agriculture, hunting, and gathering of wild resources…and there are a few domestic sheep/goat sneaking in to the record in the 17th century, as well.  Earlier sites seem to have been used for more activities than later ones; it seems like the later sites are more often either hunting-specific or agriculture-specific.  I’ll have to wait to see if this pattern holds up when I get to the statistical analysis!