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Food and drink in Iron Age Britain

Bread, stews, porridges and beer were probably what most people in Iron Age Britain ate and drank most of the time. Fresh meat roasted over a fire or cooked in stews would probably only have been eaten on quite rare occasions; most people probably ate little meat every day, and then it was possibly dried or salted meat, or sausages. Archaeological evidence shows that beef (cattle), pork (pigs) and mutton or lamb (sheep) were the most common types of meat eaten, but horse and dog were also eaten. Wheat and barley were two of the most common crops grown by Iron Age people. They would have been ground into flour to make bread, using quernstones. Barley and wheat could also be used in porridges and stews. Beans were also a common part of the diet along with types of brassicas (probably cabbage or parsnip). Milk from cows and possibly sheep was available at some times of the year, and was probably used to make cheeses. There is little evidence for fish eating in Iron Age Britain and other wild foods were not commonly eaten.

Direct evidence for how food was cooked comes from the pots, ovens, cauldrons and firedogs (iron supports for cooking meat over a fire). Many day to day meals were probably cooked in pots directly on a fire. Archaeologists sometimes find the burnt remains of stews or porridge on Iron Age cooking pots. Ovens were common and could be used to cook bread and other foods. Large amounts of meat would have been boiled in large cauldrons or roasted over a fire. Not all cooking took place indoors - outdoor hearths and ovens have been found on some Iron Age settlement sites.

In some areas, such as Ireland and parts of Scotland, very few pots were used in Iron Age times. This must mean that these people rarely used pottery for cooking or storing food - but they may have used cauldrons instead. Cooking and eating practices changed through time. In the last hundred years of the Iron Age in southern England people began to use new ways to cook and serve food.

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