Monday, April 12, 2010

Exploring the Colonial Diet through Archaeology

Historic St. Mary’s City will host the annual Archaeology Month lecture on Friday, April 16 at 7 p.m. Henry Miller, Historic St. Mary's City’s director of research, will offer An Archaeological View of Food in Colonial Maryland.

Maryland’s colonists brought Old World eating habits with them. In 17th-century England, meat was commonly believed to be the most nourishing food and its high consumption was a sign of status and wealth. Some thought raw vegetables and fruit suspect but bread, beer and dairy products were staples. The common man in England found fewer and fewer opportunities to acquire meat, as forests disappeared and enclosure restricted access to commons. But according to George Alsop in 1666, Maryland offered both abundance and variety, and suggested newcomers could “Dwell here, live plentifully and be rich.” The chance for a better life that the New World offered must have been especially appealing to commoners.

But did Maryland live up to its promise? What did settlers eat in early Maryland and was it similar to England or different? Did the nature of their diet shift over the colonial period or remain much the same? While history provides valuable clues, many facts were never recorded about the foods they ate. Fortunately, archaeology can fill in these gaps and provide a far better understanding of how Chesapeake cuisine developed. In this illustrated lecture, Dr. Miller will describe what archaeology and history, especially the study of animal bones, reveals about changes to the human diet in the Chesapeake through the colonial era.

The Archaeology Month lecture will take place at 7 p.m. in the Historic St. Mary’s City Visitor Center auditorium. There is no charge for this event.
For more information about the museum and St. Mary’s City archaeology, visit or call 240-895-4990.

Photo of Dr. Henry Miller.  Credit: Historic St. Mary's City
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