Cooking and eating in Iron Age Britain

When archaeologists excavate an Iron Age farm, village or hillfort they most commonly find evidence for food eaten by the inhabitants. Pots, found as broken pieces, were used to store or cook foods and to eat from. The bones of animals eaten as food and parts of edible plants are also found. Other finds include tools used in preparing foods, such as quern stones for making flour, and oven parts. Ovens were used to bake bread.

Food preparation and consumption did not stay the same throughout the 850 years of the Iron Age in Britain. These practices also differed from one part of the country to another. The shapes of the pots people used, or did not use, indicate these differences. In some areas people appear to have used very few pots for cooking or eating. In others evidence for domestic pots is absent altogether: foods might have been cooked in wooden tubs or cauldrons instead.

Meat from sheep, cattle, pigs, horses and dogs were eaten in the Iron Age. Wild animals and fish were rarely eaten in southern Britain. Cereals such as wheat and barley were probably the main source of food and were consumed in the form of bread, porridge and beer. Beans, some vegetables and wild plants were also eaten.

In the mid-Iron Age (about 300-100 BC), people in large parts of southern Britain commonly ate stews, porridge and soups cooked in open pots, probably accompanied by bread. Eating might have been communal, with the food served in a single bowl from which many people ate. Wooden spoons are rarely found so people may have dipped into the bowl with pieces of bread. These ways of cooking and eating changed in south-eastern England from 100 BC onwards, but in other parts of Britain they carried on until several generations after the Roman Conquest (AD 43). In most of Scotland and other parts of Britain never directly controlled by the Romans, Iron Age ways of eating continued throughout Roman times.

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