Archaeology of Food

Course Basics

Anthropology 315-00
Archaeology 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 and 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?

Additionally, we will focus on indigenous and wild foods of eastern Pennsylvania. We will examine ways in which food is all around us, particularly in “wild” places. We’ll start with some descriptions of indigenous use of plants. Then, we will do two things. First, we will identify a set of  plants that we can identify in the wild near campus, learn how to identify them and go into the field to locate them. Second, you will do a more extensive research paper on a plant or animal from the area (though not necessarily one that we can locate).

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

  • Annotations- 30%
  • Assessment Papers- 25%
  • Research Paper- 20%
  • Identification Paper- 15%
  • Participation- 10%

Each class you are responsible for annotating the assigned readings. While additional instructions are available on Canvas, the basic idea is that you will identify important terms and ideas and comment on them in the text. Because all students will be participating, this also provides an opportunity to interact while processing the readings.

Assessment Papers
There will be three assessment papers throughout the semester. These allow you to step back and bring the readings that you have completed together to understand the role of food in human societies. You will be required to cite the readings from class and use them appropriately.

Research Paper
For this paper, you will select a plant used by indigenous peoples of the area (known as Lenape, Lenni Lenape, Munsee, or Delaware). You will then write a paper that documents the basics (description, range, etc.) as well as it’s past and present use.

Identification Paper
The idea behind this paper is to look at plants that were used historically by indigenous peoples of the area. Then, we will construct documents that we can use to identify the plants. Lastly, we will travel to the Blue Mountain to identify these plants in the wild.


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.