The Dietary Impact of the Norman Conquest

The Norman Conquest of 1066 looms large in the public imagination and had profound implications for English society. Whilst the impact on elite culture is fairly well understood, we know less of the implications of conquest for ordinary people. One area which allows us to explore this cultural impact of Conquest is the study of diet and cuisine.

Building on the earlier work of Naomi Sykes, which studied the zooarchaeological evidence, a pilot project (focussed on the town of Oxford) has been developed to apply ground breaking scientific techniques to this question. Through using a range of analytical approaches the project will explore diet at a range of scales. This will be achieved through:

  • Stable isotope analysis of pre- and post- conquest individuals to understand change in the diet of individuals.
  • Incremental stable isotope analysis of pre- and post- conquest individuals. This is a new technique. Whereas conventional stable isotope analysis gives an average dietary signal over a period of time, incremental analysis gives a finer resolution, allowing dietary change over a period of months to be reconstructed, based upon the taking of multiple samples from teeth.
  • Analysis of absorbed food residues in pre- and post- conquest pottery.
  • Palaeo-pathological analysis of pre- and post- conquest skeletons.
  • Synthesis of existing analyses of zooarchaeological and archaeobotanical evidence.

The project is a collaboration between myself, Dr Richard Madgwick (Cardiff) and Dr Lizzy Craig-Atkins (Sheffield). Allie Taylor (Sheffield) has undertaken analysis of human remains and Dr Lucy Cramp (Bristol) will undertake the organic residue analysis.

The project has been supported by the Society of Antiquaries, Royal Archaeological Institute and Society for Medieval Archaeology. Cardiff University have provided funding through its CUROP scheme for 2 student research assistants who have undertaken much of the sample preparation. We are also grateful to the support of Oxfordshire Museums Service and Oxford Archaeology.