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A study of diet in Mesopotamia (c.3000 - 600 BC) and associated agricultural techniques and methods of food preparation

Ellison, ER; (1978) A study of diet in Mesopotamia (c.3000 - 600 BC) and associated agricultural techniques and methods of food preparation. Doctoral thesis , University of London. Green open access

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This study has been undertaken in order to find out what were the main foodstuffs consumed by the people of Mesopotamia, whether they would have provided an adequate diet containing all the essential nutrients, and whether the foodstuffs could have been supplied locally. Agricultural techniques have been looked at to see how efficiently and in what quantities food crops were produced and the methods of food preparation have been examined in order to see in what form the foodstuffs were consumed. The modern climate and countryside are outlined and the evidence for the ancient climate and changes in the courses of the rivers are set against them. The sources of evidence used can be divided into three main categories. These are: direct evidence of food sources from excavations - that is, botanical and zoological remains indicating the existence of specific cereals, vegetables, meat-animals etc, at a given place and at a . given point of time; indirect evidence from excavations such as tools and artefacts which could have been used in the production and preparation of food, representations of plants, animals, foodpreparation and consumption on cylinder seals, stone reliefs, pottery, inlay work, jewellery etc; and evidence from cuneiform tablets of the variety of foodstuffs known, and in many cases, of the amounts of foodstuffs eaten. In the main, the cuneiform texts which have been consulted are those which are published with transliterations and the vast body of texts which are either unpublished or published only in copy have not been examined. It was considered that the enormous number of texts already published could be expected to give a representative picture of the main features of food preparation and food stuffs. The main cereal crop cultivated was barley and this was the main crop used for rations and for fodder. Emmer-wheat and bread-wheat were also grown, as were a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, including onions, chickpeas, lentils, dates, figs and pomegranates. The main meat-animals were sheep, goats and cattle whose dairy products were also used. Hunting and fishing were practised to provide food and these activities were probably more important in the third millennium.The main types of food were those based on cereals, such as breads, beer, roasted grains, 'semolina' and malt. The wide variety of breads made included sweetened preparations to which dates and ghee had been added. Animal fats and vegetable oils were used and the main vegetable oil was probably linseed. The qualitative nutritional value of the diet was assessed, and it was found that most of the essential nutrients existed in the food stuffs available in Mesopotamia. However, if the rations issued by employers are taken to represent the probable diet of the ordinary people, it is seen that there is a marked deficiency of Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Other possible sources for these vitamins were examined. An assessment was made of the energy intakes of the ordinary people, from the ration lists, and it was found that the average intake for the whole of Mesopotamia was higher than that recounended for an adult male by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations, although the local average varied from place to place and time to time. No such quantitative nutritional assessment could be made for the diet of other classes.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: A study of diet in Mesopotamia (c.3000 - 600 BC) and associated agricultural techniques and methods of food preparation
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by British Library EThOS. Some images have been excluded due to third party copyright.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Institute of Archaeology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1349279
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