Food and wine preparation - Egyptians

New study reveals ancient Egyptians were mostly vegetarian

(Read the article on one page)

New research published in the Journal of Archaeological Science and reported in Live Science has shed light on the ancient Egyptian diet. By analysing the carbon atoms in mummies that had lived in Egypt between 3500 BC and 600 AD, the French research team were able to determine that ancient Egyptians were largely vegetarian.

The analysis was carried out on the remains of 45 ancient Egyptians that had been sent to two museums in Lyon, France during the 19 th century, and involved a cutting-edge technique involving the measurement of carbon ratios taken from bone, tooth enamel and hair.

We had an approach that was a little different," explained Alexandra Touzeau, who led the research team at the University of Lyon. "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.

All carbon atoms are taken in by plants from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the process of photosynthesis. By eating plants, and the animals that had eaten plants, the carbon ends up in our bodies. Analysing this carbon can actually reveal what a person has eaten.

The results revealed that the ancient Egyptians were mainly vegetarian and their diet was primarily wheat- and barley-based. Cereals, such as millet and sorghum, formed a minor part of their diet (less than 10 per cent).

One of the most unusual discoveries was that there seems to have been little fish in their diet. Most people would probably expect the ancient Egyptians living along the Nile to have eaten a lot of fish, and archaeological excavations have found mummified fish in large quantities. However, at least in the 45 individuals studied, fish was not prominent in their diets.

"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," said Kate Spence, an archaeologist and specialist in ancient Egypt at the University of Cambridge in England. "All this makes it a bit surprising that the isotopes should suggest that fish was not widely consumed."

In ancient cultures vegetarianism was much more common, except in nomadic populations, and eating meat was a development that occurred more recently.

Featured image:  Ancient Egyptian wall painting depicting food and wine preparation. Image source .

By April Holloway

Comments

and further studies will reveal that only a fraction the population ate animal.
The hunter/gatherer is a myth, perpetuated.
Millet and Sorghum suggests farming these also were only eaten by a fraction of the population.

The Elites ate food, real food.

.

This is further proof that in ancient times, people did not eat much meat, as is commonly supposed. In fact, as recently as the 1940s, may people, even in the modern world, did not eat much meat. My parents living in the Netherlands up until 1953, had meat pretty much only once per week. Only after they moved to Canada did they eat more. (It has been reported that during the early years of WWII, the major beef, pork, poultry and other meat producers of the US gathered in Chicago to plot out post-war strategies, once of which was to continue with war-time levels of production after the war. This has been going on ever since then.)

According to scientific evidence, our digestive systems are meant to digest less meat and more plant proteins. Shorter digestive tracts means that the animals eat more meat-based proteins as they have "hotter" digestive systems. Longer tracts means slower digestion to be able to break down more complex plant-based proteins. The average human digestive tract is at least four times the length of their bodies, indicating a much slower system. We can also chew food "sideways" as horses and giraffes do, by moving our jaws in a sideways motion. Our teeth are less like carnivores than they are like plant eaters and finally, we can digest plant starches in our mouths, unlike true carnivores. Try this, take a piece of raw (or cooked) potato (for those who are not allergic to them) and place it in your mouth for a few minutes without chewing. Then try the same with a piece of cooked meat. See what happens to the potato as opposed to the meat.

So it is no surprise to me that the ancient Egyptians had a largely vegetarian diet. Our digestive system gives that away.

The idea that our human ancestors were primarily vegetarians based on evidence Egyptians were primarily vegetarians is fundamentally flawed. The actual answer is that your diet reflects the climate and habitat you live in. It is absolutely no surprise that Egyptians ate a lot of grains because they lived on one of the most fertile agricultural flood plains on Earth with a warm predictable climate. It was the foundation of their civilization. But not all humans lived in Egypt or had their own flood plain. Generally, as you travel northward into colder climates, or travel to higher altitudes or rockier less fertile terrain, it becomes increasingly more difficult to grow cereal crops with as much reliability. So these people had to be prepared for disappointing harvests and had to supplement their diets with other foods. What does an Eskimo diet look like? The exact opposite of the Egyptian diet. They ate fish and seal and caribou meat as their staple foods. Why aren't Tibetan Buddhists vegetarians like their other Asian Buddhist brethren? Because they lived at 8000 feet or so in the Himalayas. Often times it is easier to let a goat or a yak eat the simple grasses of high altitude mountains and convert that grass into milk or meat than it is to farm for cereal crops. Animals can be transported and herded easily, they don't rot and grow mold sitting in the cellar, even when you can get by without eating them they supply wool or milk, they provide a very useful alternative to plants in many ways. So in warmer climates like Egypt and of course India you see substantially vegetarian diets, although still relying on dairy products as at least occasional backup protein sources. As the climate gets colder or the geography becomes less productive for farming, you see a gradual transition to animal based foods like cheeses, meats and seafoods. The Vikings grew grains when they could, but you can't grow soy beans very well near the Arctic Circle. Their staple food wasn't salted fish because they like risking their lives splashing around in the North Sea, it was a way to stay alive.

Agree, these veggie pushers look at one small biased study or the diet of a certain region and assume it's magically applicable worldwide. All that is known is that fish specifically mentioned was not a major part of the diet, didn't read it saying it was non-existent. They still ate fish, just not by American standards of let's pretend we're locusts, eat everything in sight and see how fat we can get.

That would explain the good health of their teeth, plant bases food does not produce so much cavities if its not sweet(suggar).

Pages

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Top New Stories

A fragment of a wall painting showing two lovers in bed from the House of L Caecilius Jucundus in Pompeii, now at Naples National Archaeological Museum.
Rarely does L.P. Hartley’s dictum that “the past is a foreign country” hold more firmly than in the area of sexuality in classical art. Erotic images and depictions of genitalia, the phallus in particular, were incredibly popular motifs across a wide range of media in ancient Greece and Rome.

Myths & Legends

The Last of the Siberian Unicorns: What Happened to the Mammoth-Sized One-Horned Beasts of Legend?
Elasmotherium, also known as the Giant Rhinoceros or the Giant Siberian Unicorn, is an extinct species of rhino that lived in the Eurasian area in the Late Pliocene and Pleistocene eras. They have been documented from 2.6 million years ago, but the most recent fossils come from around 29,000 years ago.

Ancient Technology

Yacouba Sawadogo planting.
Desertification is a serious problem facing numerous countries in the world today. Various measures have been taken to counter the negative effects, with some providing better results than others. A farmer in Burkina Faso looked to his ancestors and came up with an innovative solution.

Ancient Places

Stonehenge at night.
In the 1960s, a portion of a ditch excavated into chalk bedrock west of the henge at Stonehenge was discovered during construction for the pedestrian underpass that provided access to Stonehenge until a year ago. By 2014, geophysical testing confirmed that the ditch stretches over 900 meters (2952.7 ft.) from southwest of the Stonehenge henge to a point near the south ditch line of the Greater Cursus, northwest of Stonehenge.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article