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Department of Archaeology

Friday, 12 May, 2023 - 13:15
Event speaker: 
Miranda Evans, University of Cambridge

Proteomic analysis of ceramics and their residues is becoming a popular method for interpreting ancient diet and culinary practice. Proteomics has the advantage of providing taxonomically and tissue specific evidence - revealing ingredients and even food preparation practices in the past. In this talk I will present a case study of how proteomics can be utilised to detect cheesemaking in ancient ceramics. Specifically, whether the relative abundance of curd proteins compared to whey proteins can be used as an indication of the presence of cheesemaking. Residues from four modern cheesemaking vessels were characterised by tandem mass spectrometry and the patterns observed in the modern assemblage were then applied to interpret four Neolithic Funnel Beaker (TRB) culture vessels from the site of Sławęcinek in central Poland. The results from the ancient assemblage reveal evidence for Bovinae (likely cow) and Caprinae (sheep or goat) milk processing, and demonstrate the use of multiple dairy species for cheesemaking at Sławęcinek. The results are supported by faunal mortality patterns at the site and the presence of a strainer vessel in the assemblage. A high proportion of curd protein to whey proteins compared to previously reported palaeoproteomic results is also observed, which may provide evidence for the production of curd dairy products. This research provides a valuable avenue for the specific detection of cheesemaking in the past and highlights the value of modern comparative assemblages to informing ancient culinary practices. Further, we applied organic residue analysis to the vessels to assess a complementary and comparative approach for the identification of cheesemaking in antiquity. Together these analyses form the basis for a rigorous inquiry into the specifics of early dairy exploitation.


Event location: 
South Lecture Room
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