Melting Pot: Food and Identity in the Age of the Vikings

Posted on 31 May 2015

New AHRC grant for departmental researchers

31-05-2015 Melting Pots

We are pleased to report that Steve Ashby (PI), Ol Craig (Co-I) and Anita Radini (PDRA) have been awarded an AHRC research grant for the project 'Melting Pot: Food and Identity in the Age of the Vikings'

The aim of the project is to consider the ways that food (and 'cuisines') are tied to particular identity groups in the Viking Age. As a 'melting pot' of different cultures, ethnicities, and interest groups, culture contact in this period has often been studied through attention to material culture - whether that be weapons, jewellery, architecture (or, in Steve's case, combs). This project takes a different approach. We know that food is important in the creation and maintenance of identity - migrants often bring elements of their home cuisine with them to new shores, as well as adopting local dishes. In the same way, migrants' cuisines are often assimilated into the palette of the host society. These ideas remain to be explored in the context of Viking-Age England, however.

The Melting Pot project will build on the existing corpus of zooarchaeological and archaeobotanical data from the towns and rural settlements of Viking-Age Britain and Scandinavia, and will undertake new analyses of the pottery used in the transport, storage, preparation, cooking, and consumption of food. The Viking Age saw an explosion of new forms of ceramics, many of which were transported over considerable distance, while more local, handmade forms, were used alongside them. But were they used for different purposes? Different foodstuffs? By different people? Were the same forms of pottery used in the same ways in rural and urban contexts? Coastal and inland? In the Danelaw and the Saxon South? And how do these patterns compare with what we see in Denmark, at both urban sites (such as Ribe), and in the countryside?

We will draw upon recently developed approaches to the study of use-wear in ceramics, as well as an extensive programme of analysis of both charred adhesions and absorbed residues in these vessels. The project thus brings together Steve Ashby's interests in Viking-Age identity and material culture, Ol Craig's expertise in absorbed residue analysis, and Anita Radini's skills in working with plant and other environmental remains. We are also joined by a cast of stars in the project steering panel, including fellow Viking Soren Sindbaek, residue specialists Sven Isaksson and Hayley Saul, specialist in Anglo-Saxon literature, Alaric Hall, and early-medieval ceramicists Ailsa Mainman and Gareth Perry. By the end of the project, we hope to have a new tool to use in the study of Viking identy and culture contact. No longer we will be reliant on brooches, swords, or longhouses; the humble cooking pot can join the fray.

Photo credit: York Archaeological Trust