Iron Age Britain: changing ways of eating and drinking

Many aspects of life changed in the last one hundred years of the Iron Age in Britain. These changes were most strongly felt in south-eastern England. Aspects of everyday life, such as dress, facial appearance and jewellery altered dramatically. Pottery is the most obvious evidence that eating and drinking changed: the introduction of new and modified pot shapes are evidence for new foods and cooking equipment. The new shapes of pot were wheel-made when previously British pots had been handmade.

The type of pots shown are typical of those that might have been used at dinner by a moderately well off Iron Age family living in Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent or West Sussex in about AD 20. Only a hundred years before, a similar family would have dined from very different shaped pots.

The tall thin pot is a Butt Beaker. This and the small cone shaped cups were two new shapes of pot used exclusively for drinking alcohol: beer, mead or – less commonly – wine. Beer and mead were also drunk in the centuries before, but not from special vessels. The plate shown was a new innovation and before this time people ate meals from bowls. The food eaten was probably a stew or porridge and several people may have even shared a single bowl. The introduction of plates indicates that the type of food people ate at this time had probably changed: it is difficult to eat stew or porridge from a plate.

These new ways of eating and drinking came from north-eastern France. The most powerful people showed their importance by using the finest plates and cups, which were made in what is today France. Such people also used Roman cooking utensils and could import wine and olive oil from Roman Italy or Spain in large transport jars called 'amphorae'. After the Romans conquered Britain in AD 43 these new ways of eating continued and spread with only a few changes. These included the use of mortaria, bowls specially designed for pounding and puréeing ingredients to produce the complex blends of flavours typical of Roman cuisine.

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