Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Project title: Foodways Through the Desert. Diet as an Indicator for Identity and Social Responses to Environmental and Cultural Challenges in Arabia and Palaestina (2nd to 8th century CE)
Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Heide Frielinghaus, Prof. Dr. Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser
The area of the former Nabataean Kingdom is a hot and arid region. Annual rainfall of just 300 to less than 50 mm makes the region a hostile place to live. Nevertheless, the desert experienced a heyday between Roman and Byzantine times (2nd-7th century CE). Small Nabataean caravan stations, which served the incense traders as stopovers on their arduous journey to the harbour of Gaza, became large urban centres. New public buildings, paved streets, public organisation of trash removal and sewer systems reflect these settlements at their climax. In my study of the relationship between the diverse population of that region (sedentary people, nomads, traders, herders) with their desert environment, the question of how they exploited resources for their daily food is central. Low precipitation, poor soil, a lack in permanent water sources and high temperatures pose special challenges when it comes to food procurement, preservation and preparation. On the background of this climatic situation, but also in view of the cultural, political and religious changes that affected the area (e.g. Roman Annexation, Christianisation, Plague of Justinian), my doctoral thesis will identify how these parameters affected food production and consumption in the Negev at different levels: One the one hand the aim is to identify differences or similarities between various types of settlements with different levels of organisation (e.g. towns, villages, farms, camps). On the other hand, the role of certain population groups in the process of food procurement and consumption will be investigated. Questions concerning the specialisation of certain groups in the procurement of certain resources, the relationship between sedentary and mobile groups and nutritional regulations such as bans that could have influenced nutrition in the area will be studied. Furthermore, the investigation will show if specific concepts and ideas of certain resources and foods have developed on the background of the climatic limitations and cultural impacts on the area that are unique to the Negev Desert.
The aim is to generate a holistic picture of foodways in the research area. Therefore, and also following the interdisciplinary approach of the Research Training Group 1876, four different types of sources, which often produce divergent impressions of diet, will be critically examined and brought together within the framework of my thesis: This includes archaeological remains such as installations for the production of food (e.g. wine and olive presses, millstones, threshing floors etc.), its distribution (markets, open spaces), preparation (kitchens and hearths) and final disposal (garbage dumps). In addition, results from scientific research on animal bones and plant remains, as well as organic residues from ceramic vessels will be consulted. The information gained from these studies will be complemented with the written and pictorial sources from the research area.