In ancient cultures, vegetarianism was the norm unless you were nomadic. In fact, most sedentary populations, including ancient Egypt, ate large quantities of fruits ad vegetables. By looking at the carbon atoms in mummies that had lived in Egypt between 3500 B.C. and 600 A.D, French researchers were able to distinguish what kinds of foods made up the ancient Egyptian diet and how frequently they were consumed.
The researchers studied the remains of 45 people from two museums in Lyon, France. Alexandra Touzeau, the leader of the research team, said, “We had an approach that was a little different. We worked a lot with bones and teeth, while most researchers study hair, collagen and proteins. We also worked on many different periods, with not many individuals for each period, so we could cover a very long time span.”
The findings were reported in the Journal of Archaeological Science, and the reports were surprising. The ancient Egyptian diet did not vary greatly. Even when the Nile area became increasingly arid, fruits and vegetables were still grown and consumed, and fish, thought to be a staple of a people living near a body water, were not consumed as often as expected.
Kate Spence, an archeologist and specialist in ancient Egypt at the U.K.’s University of Cambridge, said, “There is abundant evidence for fishing in Egyptian wall reliefs and models (both spear and net fishing), and fish shows up in offering lists. There is also a lot of archeological evidence for fish consumption from sites such as Gaza and Amama. All this makes it a bit surprising that the isotopes should suggest that fish was not widely consumed.”
We would get along in ancient Egypt quite well.
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