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The Menial Art of Cooking

Archaeological Studies of Cooking and Food Preparation

Edited by Sarah R. Graff and Enrique Rodríguez-Alegría

Publication Year: 2012

Although the archaeology of food has long played an integral role in our understanding of past cultures, the archaeology of cooking is rarely integrated into models of the past. The cooks who spent countless hours cooking and processing food are overlooked and the forgotten players in the daily lives of our ancestors. The Menial Art of Cooking shows how cooking activities provide a window into other aspects of society and, as such, should be taken seriously as an aspect of social, cultural, political, and economic life. This book examines techniques and technologies of food preparation, the spaces where food was cooked, the relationship between cooking and changes in suprahousehold economies, the religious and symbolic aspects of cooking, the relationship between cooking and social identity, and how examining foodways provides insight into social relations of production, distribution, and consumption. Contributors use a wide variety of evidence—including archaeological data; archival research; analysis of ceramics, fauna, botany, glass artifacts, stone tools, murals, and painted ceramics; ethnographic analogy; and the distribution of artifacts across space—to identify evidence of cooking and food processing left by ancient cooks. The Menial Art of Cooking is the first archaeological volume focused on cooking and food preparation in prehistoric and historic settings around the world and will interest archaeologists, social anthropologists, sociologists, and other scholars studying cooking and food preparation or subsistence.

Published by: University Press of Colorado


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pp. c-c

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

This project took a great deal of time and effort to complete. It began as an idea that Enrique had for a conference panel. We discussed it at length and then organized the session, “Archaeological Studies of Cooking and Food Preparation,” at the Society for American Archaeology conference in 2005....


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pp. xvii-xx

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Introduction. The Menial Art of Cooking

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pp. 1-18

This book is about cooking. This book is not about food; it is about food preparation and what archaeologists can learn about societies from studying various aspects of their culinary practices, contexts, techniques, and equipment. Aristotle (1995) called cooking a “menial art” in book 1 of...

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1. Culinary Preferences

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pp. 19-46

In western Syria, a distinctive looking vessel has been found dating to the late third millennium BC. This vessel is known as the seal-impressed jar because it is often impressed with a cylinder seal on the rim or the neck. Seal-impressed jars are considered important for a number of reasons. First, they date to the end of...

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2. Food Preparation, Social Context, and Ethnicity in a Prehistoric Mesopotamian Colony

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pp. 47-64

Food provides a uniquely valuable source of insight into the dynamics of culture. Cooking and consumption often occur in different social contexts, corresponding to the contrast between domestic and more public spheres. For this reason, food preparation and consumption can reflect different context-dependent assertions...

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3. The Habitus of Cooking Practices at Neolithic Çatalhöyük

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pp. 65-86

Perhaps more than any other human activity, the act of eating creates the person as well as the community. Food is the ultimate social glue. Many ethnographers who have ventured forth to study kinship, economics, politics, gender relations, ritual, or trade have found that their informants channel their discussions to...

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4. Cooking Meat and Bones at Neolithic Çatalhöyük, Turkey

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pp. 87-98

In most societies meat is a highly valued food. In some cases, meat is rarely consumed except at feasts and sacrifices (e.g., Bloch 1985; Gibson 1985; Grantham 1995). In others, at least some meat is needed to make a “real meal” (Descola 1994; Douglas 1971). Either way, meat marks particular consumption events as...

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5. From Grinding Corn to Dishing Out Money

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pp. 99-118

Mexican cuisine is known for a variety of flavors (especially its heat) and dishes made from an endless list of plant and animal ingredients. Women are the ones responsible for such a great variety of flavors and ingredients. Women were the cooks in Aztec society, and they are the cooks in today’s Mexico. Many Mexican...

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6. Cooking for Fame or Fortune

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pp. 119-144

Manioc, a shrub with a starchy, tuberous root, requires a complex cooking sequence in order to be converted into a storable and transportable food, either as casabe, a flat, round cake, or as mañoco, a form of toasted grits. In both cases, this process involves the grating, pressing, sieving, and cooking of the resulting pulp....

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7. Crafting Harappan Cuisine on the Saurashtran Frontier of the Indus Civilization

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pp. 145-172

This exploration of cooking practices at Gola Dhoro (Bhan et al. 2004, 2005; Sonawane et al. 2003), a small settlement of the Indus civilization (ca. 2600– 1900 BC) in Gujarat, offers new insights into the foodways of the site’s residents as they came to increasingly participate in the interregional interaction networks...

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8. Vale Boi

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pp. 173-200

Animal fats in the form of subcutaneous, muscular, mesenteric, and within-bone deposits represent some of the most high-calorie foods available to foragers. Though the prehistoric extraction of animal body fats has no visible archaeological record, the harvesting of within-bone fats may be recognized through careful,...

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9. “Hoe Cake and Pickerel”

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pp. 201-230

Cooking practices and the foods they produce are particularly important arenas for exploring the experiences and daily routines of colonial populations. Both the biological and social necessities that compel the production and consumption of the quotidian meal are crucial to “constructing and punctuating the rhythms and...

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10. Great Transformations

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pp. 231-244

The difference between the potentially edible (plants and animals) and food—a substance deemed appropriate for consumption—is very often created through the act of cooking. In India, for example, paddy from the fields, though clearly destined for human consumption, is not subject to the same kinds of social restrictions as...


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pp. 245-248

E-ISBN-13: 9781607321767
E-ISBN-10: 1607321769
Print-ISBN-13: 9781607321750
Print-ISBN-10: 1607321750

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 20 b&w photos, 23 line drawings, 9 maps, 13 tables
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 781634994
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Menial Art of Cooking

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Cooking -- Social aspects -- History.
  • Cooks -- History.
  • Cooking -- History.
  • Social archaeology.
  • Ethnoarchaeology.
  • Cookware -- History.
  • Food habits -- History.
  • Archaeology and history.
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