Roll up, roll up for chance to eat 3,000 year-old bread

Food consumed by Iron Age people is being brought back to life following a UCC-led project. A team of international archaeologists unearthed evidence of food grown and cooked in Ireland nearly 3,000 years ago.
Roll up, roll up for chance to eat 3,000 year-old bread

The findings were from animal bones and seeds found in investigations, conducted in the south-east of the country.

However, in an experimental reconstructions of Iron Age cuisine, the public will be able to see the results of ancient bread- and butter-making techniques and taste the end product at a special exhibition at Cork Public Museum in Fitzgerald Park on Saturday next.

“We have identified evidence of settlement, as well as arable and pastoral agriculture, indicating that communities were thriving in the south-east of Ireland,” said UCC archaeology lecturer Katharina Becker.

“The apparent lack of archaeological site dating had previously created mystery around this period,” said Dr Becker.

In the first project of its kind in this country, the findings were drawn from excavations carried out during the building of new roads and gas pipelines.

Dr Becker said: “The animal bones and seeds recovered from road and gas pipeline excavations provide direct evidence of farming practices and the diet during the Iron Age, dating as far back as 2,700 years ago.

“Cattle and pigs provided dairy and meat, barley was a staple, and we also have evidence of a variety of wheats,” she said.

The team has joined up with artisan baker Declan Ryan of Cork’s Arbutus Bread and experts from the Cork Butter Museum and Cork Public Museum to investigate and recreate how farmers turned raw ingredients into delicious meals during the Celtic era.

Recipes will be based on the range of charred grains and seeds that represent the remains of the actual foodstuffs grown by prehistoric peoples and preserved in the soil for over two millennia.

The results of bread-making experiments with barley, a lower-gluten cereal that does not offer an easy rise, and butter-making with traditional methods, will be made public in the open day in the Cork museum.

The Heritage Council-funded project, Settlement and Landscape in Later Prehistoric Ireland — Seeing Beyond the Site, has been compiling information recovered from archaeological excavations carried out in the south-east region in recent years.

To conduct investigations, UCC’s specialists in later prehistoric archaeology and palaeoecology joined forces with Transport Infrastructure Ireland which is financially supporting the project, and an international research team comprised of specialists from Bradford University, Warwick University and UCD.

Applying cutting-edge modelling techniques, data is being examined against the evidence from the study of pollen records preserved in lakes and bogs in the southeast. It had long been assumed no such records survived in the era due to agriculture and peat cutting.

However, the team has recovered a core from a lake that stretches right back to the end of the last Ice Age, 11,000 years ago.

“The analysis of lake sediments which have accumulated over thousands of years allows us to identify the actual pollen grains from the plants that people were cultivating during prehistory,” said UCC archaeology lecturer Ben Gearey.

“We can date these sequences using radiocarbon dating and compare them to the archaeological evidence of settlement and agriculture,” said Dr Gearey.

Meanwhile, the methods archaeologists use to analyse cereal grains and animal bones found on archaeological digs and pollen records, to reconstruct landscapes, will be explored in hands-on sessions.

“We want to give the public the opportunity to see for themselves how archaeologists and environmental specialists connect and make sense of the minute pieces of evidence found on archaeological sites to reconstruct the stories of people’s lives,” said Dr Becker.

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