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The Melting Pot project aims to rediscover the eating habits of Vikings

PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 March 2019 | UPDATED: 10:47 14 March 2019

Going to pot – York College students research the cooking habits of the Vikings

Going to pot – York College students research the cooking habits of the Vikings


Students investigate Viking age cooking and eating habits to help archaeologists answer questions about the past.

Students enjoyed seeing their science applied to a practical problemStudents enjoyed seeing their science applied to a practical problem

Six York College students have been using their modern chemistry skills to work out what the heck Vikings used to eat (our money is on herring).

The Melting Pot project, instrumental in the creation of a new exhibition at DIG in St Saviourgate, York, reveals how oil and wax remnants in cooking pots hold vital diet clues.

The A-level chemistry students used Viking cooking techniques in replica pots and then analysed residues, comparing them with archaeological samples.

Course tutor Ian Martin said: ‘The students really enjoyed seeing their science applied to a practical problem and having the opportunity to actively take part in an archaeological investigation.’

The students’ research will now feed into a much larger analysis of pots, which a team from the University of York will use to compare the patterning of residues according to time, location and social context.

Dr Steve Ashby from the department of archaeology hopes this will help answer a host of questions about our heritage: how changes in vessels relate to changes in cooking techniques; how cuisines varied between town and country; how food culture in the ‘Scandinavian’ north of England differed from the ‘Saxon’ south; and how both compare to contemporary Scandinavia.

‘We’re already starting to fill in some of the gaps in our knowledge about Viking age cooking and eating habits by tying together two sets of data that have frequently been considered in isolation: faunal and botanical remains, and ceramic collections,’ Dr Ashby explained.

He believes projects like this are a fantastic way of introducing young people to bioarchaeology. ‘It was great to be able to work alongside some very bright A-level students, and to introduce them to the ways in which archaeologists use chemistry to answer questions about past society. I don’t think they were aware of this kind of application, and their help with the hands-on cooking work was very important in connecting what we see in the lab and on the finds bench, to what must have happened on the Viking-Age hearth.’

‘The idea of YourDIG: Melting Pot is to explore a different aspect of archaeology – not just looking at how we find artefacts today but also trying to understand how people made and used them in the past,’ explains Jen Jackson, community engagement manager for York Archaeological Trust. ‘This kind of project demonstrates the huge range of disciplines involved in archaeology – the analytical side which happens well after the trench digging offers fascinating career opportunities for chemists and biologists, who use cutting edge techniques to reveal secrets of the past,’ adds Jen. u

The YourDIG: Melting Pot exhibition at DIG is free to enter. For more details, visit digyork.com

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