Reconciling organic residue analysis, faunal, archaeobotanical and historical records: Diet and the medieval peasant at West Cotton, Raunds, Northamptonshire

Publication date: July 2019

Source: Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 107

Author(s): J. Dunne, A. Chapman, P. Blinkhorn, R.P. Evershed


Information on medieval diet and subsistence practices has traditionally been compiled from a combination of documentary sources, faunal and archaeobotanical assemblages, together with other information gained from archaeological excavations. Much is known of high status medieval dietary practices but less about what foodstuffs the medieval peasantry consumed. Here, we examine the everyday dietary practices of people living in a small medieval manor and associated hamlet at West Cotton, Raunds, Northamptonshire. For the first time, a combined molecular and isotopic approach on absorbed residues, from the substantial pottery assemblage covering a period of around 500 years, was utilised to integrate information on the commodities processed in the vessels, together with detail from the faunal assemblage, archaeobotanical, archaeological and documentary information relating to the site. Lipid residue results from the pottery, mainly jars, identified the importance of ruminant carcass products and leafy vegetables, likely used to prepare the stews or potages known to be the mainstay of the medieval diet, and confirmed by the dominance of sheep and cattle in the faunal assemblage. Around one quarter of the vessels were used to process solely dairy products and some evidence of porcine product processing was found, although this may be under-represented at the site. In brief, this project provided a unique opportunity to address questions of diet and animal husbandry by medieval peasants and helped illustrate agricultural production and consumption in the middle ages.