A report of the 2nd Meeting of the Research Network “Food in Anatolia and its Neighbouring Regions”, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Istanbul, November 03-04, 2017

A weblog entry by Sina Lehnig.

Once again, our research network "Food in Anatolia and its Neighbouring Regions" came together at the beautiful location of the Istanbul Department of the DAI (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut). Right behind the building, we were able to enjoy a stunning view of the Bosporus (Fig.1). What could be a better place to discuss the close interrelation between food and culture, than this melting pot between Europe and Asia?

Fig.1: The foreign researchers – including myself – were accommodated in one of the guestrooms at the DAI. From here, we had a wonderful view of the Bosporus (Photo by Sina Lehnig).
The demand for food is a basic human need and therefore a defining characteristic of all societies. What we eat and drink strongly reflects our cultural background, status, mobility and the knowledge we have of our natural environment. Although the investigation of diet could contribute to our understanding of past human societies, research approaches that address the interrelation between food and culture are still rare in the ancient cultural studies. In order to attract more attention to the important topic of past human diet, the Istanbul Department of the DAI has established the research network "Food in Anatolia and its Neighbouring Regions". It is one in a set of five networks that took place over the past ten years, addressing several themes like "Power and Hierarchies in the Urban and Rural Environment" and "Nature and Cult in Anatolia". Each network works for a period of three years, with up to two meetings each year. During the first meeting of the research network in March 2017, the participants – both junior and senior researchers from international institutes and universities – introduced themselves with their main research topics, focusing on dietary issues. It turned out that the participants of our network are investigating food in many different time periods, by using a great variety of methods reaching from the analysis of ancient written sources, over to the examination of pottery, to the study of faunal and botanical remains. These different research approaches obviously bear a great diachronic and interdisciplinary potential for the investigation of ancient diet within the network. A further point of our first meeting was the discussion of key questions that will frame the following sessions. For each session, we assigned a group of participants that will bear the responsibility for the organisation of themes, contributions and the invitation of guest speakers.

Finally we got together again in November 2017 to talk about the topics of "Food and Landscape" as well as "Food and Mobility". The organisational issues of the session were taken care of by Jesko Fildhuth, Bernhard Ludwig, Wolf-Rüdiger Teegen and me. 

It was my responsibility to open our meeting with an introduction to the topic of "Food and Landscape". The aim of my presentation was to sensitize the audience for the theme and to trigger questions that can be asked regarding the several types of landscapes that can be found in Anatolia and the surrounding areas. Since there is still no consistent definition of landscape in archaeology, as a first step, the term itself had to be discussed: Following several definitions of landscape from the scientific disciplines of ecology, geography and archaeology, landscape can be understood as a concept in between human cognition and action on the one hand, and independently existing natural resources on the other hand. Humans encounter a natural landscape and develop techniques to exploit and use this region. Here, the demand for food and drinking, is probably one of the most important factors that caused the human impact on the natural environment. Nevertheless, human knowledge of resource exploitation and cultural techniques, and also the preferences for specific food as well as climatic conditions differ in the case of each time period and region. Therefore, it can be assumed that we are dealing with a great diversity of landscape types in the research area. In order to achieve an interregional and diachronic comparison of the different landscapes in Anatolia, I made the proposal to gather information from the research areas that congregate in our network according to: natural resources available, resources that were actually used or not, cultural techniques applied to exploit a region, introduction of non-local plants and animals, as well as human-induced negative impact on the natural environment. 

Following my introduction, we had two contributions to the topic of "Food and Landscape": Peter Pavúk from the Charles University of Prague talked about natural resource exploitation, animal husbandry and storage in Troy during the Late Bronze Age period. Furthermore, Jean-Denis Vigne from the Muséum national d´Histoire in Paris, France gave a lecture about Early Neolithic Cyprus (Fig. 2). In the focus of his presentation was the introduction– both intentional and unintentional – of animal species, including wild boar, deer and mice from the mainland to the island of Cyprus. While it was possible to observe a transfer of animals, plants, raw material and architecture from the Anatolian mainland during the Early Neolithic, the island had a more isolated and independent development during the later periods. Although we already gained a great insight into food and landscape creation by these two lectures, the topic has the potential for much more presentations, which we will continue to pursue in our next sessions. 

Fig. 2: Jean-Denis Vigne talking about Early Neolithic Cyprus (Photo by Sina Lehnig).
My co-organiser Wolf-Rüdiger Teegen, who is an anthropologist and archaeologist at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, gave a further introduction to our second guiding theme: "Food and Mobility" (Fig. 3). Here, he focused on indicators of food and human mobility that can be traced by the application of isotope analysis. The study of oxygen isotopes allows us to determine geographic origin. They can help us to understand the trading of animals and the interconnection of different regions. Another interesting point of his introduction was the topic of parasites as markers of mobility. Matching this aspect of mobility, his guest speaker Piers Mitchell from the University of Cambridge, gave a great insight into his studies of parasites, originating from latrines in medieval Palestine (Fig.4). Furthermore, we heard a lecture by Elif Ünlü from the Bogazici University, about the increased trade of agricultural products within Early Bronze Age trade networks in the Eastern Mediterranean. Finally, Eva Winter from the University of Jena closed our conference day with a very entertaining lecture on her research on the role of donkeys in antiquity. 

Fig. 3: My co-organiser Wolf-Rüdiger Teegen giving his introduction to "Food and Mobility" (Photo by Sina Lehnig).

Fig. 4: Our guest speaker Piers Mitchell gave his lecture on parasitology via Skype (Photo by Sina Lehnig).
After discussing food in ancient times the entire day, we developed a great appetite to test some contemporary Turkish dishes. Therefore, to round off the day, the DAI invited us to one of the cosy restaurants nearby the Istiklal Caddesi (Fig. 5). My highlight was the Künefe, a Turkish and Arabic pastry, made from cheese and kadaif noodles, which was served as a dessert. 

Fig. 5: Enjoying Turkish dishes! (Photo by Sina Lehnig).

The next day was dedicated to the visit of the Süleymaniye Mosque (Fig. 6) and its kitchen complexes. Here, we got a guided tour around the area (Fig. 7). 

Fig. 6: Beautiful Süleymaniye Mosque (Photo by Sina Lehnig).

Fig. 7: Our guide and the network in front of the mosque (Photo by Sina Lehnig).

This month's meeting of our research network was again a very fruitful experience for me. I had the possibility to exchange with people who not only have the same research interests as mine, but also are nice, friendly and valuable new contacts for me. It was a lot of fun to talk shop, eat, drink and experience wonderful Istanbul with them. I am already looking forward to our next meeting in March 2018. 

Will keep you posted!