Archaeology of Food

Course Basics

Anthropology 315-00
Anthropology of Food

Instructor Information

Dr. Benjamin Carter
Up-to-date contact information (including office hours) is available here

General Policies

You are required to read Dr. Carter’s Policies. You are responsible for understanding and following these policies. If you have a question, please ask in class as your fellow students will benefit.

Course Description

Food is a central axis for examining a suite of important anthropological issues, including health/nutrition, subsistence economy, gender roles/relations, ritual/ceremonial life, social inequality, political power, and many more. In this course, we consider these issues through an examination of the archaeological record in many places and many times. Thus, we must also consider the methods that archaeologists use to identify, quantify, and make arguments from their data. We will take a cross-cultural, case-study approach to combine our interest in the above issues with an understanding of archaeological methods.

We will begin with an overview of how food studies are situated within archaeology today and what the various methods are that archaeologists use to study food. When we consider food as a topic of study, we consider it more broadly in terms of foodways—that is, the cultural milieu within which food and food practices are situated. To understand past food practices, we consider a variety of evidence, including the food remains, food containers and serving wares, areas of food preparation and consumption, and the human body as a record of consumption. After spending a few weeks considering the methods of food analysis, we will move onto a more issue-centered approach and consider such topics as cannibalism, feasting, luxury foods, status, gender, and ethnicity. How do we identify these issues archaeologically and how is food used to signal individual and group identity?

Course Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Assess the role of food in human society.
  • Describe anthropology’s unique contribution to an inclusive and holistic understanding of human biology and society.
  • Discuss the important role of archaeology in understanding some of the most important developments in the human past.
  • Describe the different archaeological methods that we can use to understand food and their appropriate uses.
  • Converse about the importance of food in both cohesive and divisive activities within the human past and provide specific examples of such.
  • Understand and assess the ways that different societies throughout the world and in the past use food.
  • Assess different types of data and bring them together to produce a broader interpretation.
  • Apply an archaeological understanding of food in society to modern issues.

In terms of research and writing, students will be able to:

  • summarize arguments concisely
  • synthesize different forms of data
  • evaluate evidence and arguments
  • write in a professional academic style
  • present research material clearly


We will not be reading a textbook in this class, but rather a series of archaeological articles on a variety of different topics. Assigned readings will be available on our LMS (Learning Management System), known as Canvas.

Class LMS

For this course, we will be using our Learning Management System (LMS) known as Canvas. Our syllabus, schedule and all course materials live on Canvas. You will turn in most assignments via Canvas. Canvas provides excellent online documentation for nearly anything. Here is a link to the Student Guide (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.. However, even Canvas representatives have encouraged us to just Google “canvas lms” and whatever you want to do (e.g., find calendar). I highly encourage you to download the app (just Google “Canvas lms” along with your platform, e.g., “IOS” or “Android”) and/or synchronize your Canvas calendar with your calendar on your phone/computer using the iCal feed.


Distribution of assessments

  • Questions and Terms- 20%
  • Summaries- 10%
  • Three Exams- 30%
  • Research Paper- 30%
  • Participation- 10%

Questions and Terms: Each class you are responsible for producing one thought-provoking question and one important term. These questions and terms will form the basis of much of our in-class discussion.

General Instructions
You will enter both terms and questions on a Google spreadsheets linked through Canvas.
Each reading will have it’s own “tab.” If it does not have one, make one (using Author lastname and date as the name)!
Your question or term cannot replicate those of your classmates.
Therefore, because we are doing this assignment by priority, the earlier you complete your part, the more flexibility you will have.
You must complete these by 9 am on the day we are to discuss the reading.
One question/term per reading (not per day) per person.

Instructions for questions-
These are intended to be discussion questions. They should be broad and theoretical, not easily and quickly answered.

    • Good question- What are some potential reasons for cannibalism?
    • Not a good question- Were there marks on the bones from Moulin Guercy?

They must cover a significant portion of the text.
This includes a question for video(s) as well.

Instructions for term-

One term per person per article (video not included here)
Include terms that are important to the article.
These may include terms that you do not originally know, but need to look up (use encyclopedic resources through library, including the Encyclopedia of Archaeology!) or terms that you already know, but that you find are particularly significant or central to the reading.
Define each of your terms in your own words.

Each class, one student will be assigned the responsibility of writing a summary of one of the articles for the day.

  • A full reference should be included at the top of the summary.
  • These summaries must be clear, concise and well-written.
  • As a summary they should include all the major portions of the reading and hit important high points.
  • They should also indicate how they connect to food and archaeology.
  • They will be read aloud to the rest of the class at the beginning of the daily discussion.
  • They should be between ¾ -1 page.
  • They must be completed by one hour prior to the beginning of class.
    Please submit these via Canvas.


Exams are take home essays. They are designed to help you synthesize material. You will be given a choice of 2-3 questions one week in advance of the exam day. You will choose one of these questions and write a 4-6 page essay. Essays must adhere to the rubric you will be given.The day on the calendar is the day the essay is due. We will spend class time discussing your essays and on activities that require little work before class (such as an important film).

Research Paper
The single most important assignment for this class is your research paper. More instructions are located on this website.


You are required to participate in each and every class. This will be assessed to the best of my ability. There are a few basic principles to remember to ensure a good grade.

First, COME TO CLASS. Is there any question why this is important? Yes, I will take attendance!

Second, READ all of the required material. That does not mean look at each and every word on the assigned pages. It means actually try to understand everything that is written. This is not a quick process.

Third, THINK. I will present you with a large amount of material. You need to think about it. If you regurgitate what I say, you will likely pass. If you think about what I say and ask probing questions, you will learn. You are the only one who can decide which is more important.


The schedule is available on Canvas. Be aware that, as of the first day of class, it does not yet include every single item. More will be added as they approach during the semester. The schedule below is the same one that will appear in your calendar in Canvas. This calendar is not static and will change based upon our progress through different topics. You need to pay close attention to the calendar. All assignments for a class will be posted by the preceding class. You will be given more warning for long term assignments.