January 11, 2009

Millet-eaters

A recently-accepted article in AJPA provides the first concrete evidence for the consumption of millet in Italy in over 20 years (Tafuri et al., Stable isotope evidence for the consumption of millet and other plants in Bronze Age Italy, AJPA early view). I'm a bit annoyed, as part of my dissertation involves carbon isotope analysis to answer the question of whether or not Romans consumed millet, contrary to historical sources that claim millet was only for animals. No one else had thought to do C analysis in Italy for this reason (or perhaps other studies came up empty of C4 plant evidence), and I was hoping to provide some good evidence that my lower-class people ate everything they could find.

Then again, the current evidence is that people in Italy in the Bronze Age (15th-8th century BC) and the Iron Age (8th-5th century BC) ate millet, and all samples come from sites near the Alps or very far south on the peninsula. There are still no data supporting this kind of consumption during the Roman Republic or Empire. At a time when diets were likely changing rapidly owing to immigration (and thus new foodways) and importation of grain and edible animals, it's still important to test whether millet, by all accounts a famine-only kind of grain, was being eaten, particularly by the lower classes.

So I guess I haven't really been scooped. I do really want to get my carbon and nitrogen results back, though, to see what kind of surprises the dietary data hold for the classical period.

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