|Archaeologist digs into history of eating habits|
|Written by Andrew Steckling, Daily Vidette Senior Staff|
|Thursday, 12 November 2009 22:59|
What you throw out could tell future archaeologists a lot about the cultures and traditions of today.
At least according to Floyd Mansberger, an archaeologist of Fever River Research, who has been working on a multi-year excavation project in downtown Springfield.
His speech, titled “A Historical Archaeologist’s View of Early Illinois Foodways: Some Initial Ramblings by a Lover of Food” revealed ethnographical and anthropological information about 19th century Springfield families.
“I’ve known this man for a very long time, and I can tell you that what he is presenting is a mouthful, which I think is very appropriate for this kind of setting,” Greg Koos, executive director of the McLean County Museum of History, said.
The speech was held in conjunction with the museum’s newest exhibit, “Come and Get It! The Way We Ate, 1830-2008.”
Mansberger began a multi-year project excavating much of the area around the now Springfield capitol building in 2000 as part of his work on the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
He said the topic of food is something that strikes his interest.
“Food is one of my more enjoyable things in life. I like the diversity and the studies of modern and past foods,” he said.
Mansberger said the study as well as hands-on excavation of these sites greatly contributes to the anthropological, historical and ethnographical importance of life two centuries ago.
“The historical and anthropological approach can help us tell about the variety of the food used, as well as how they prepared, stored and consumed individual items,” he said.
“The ethnographical can help us determine eating traditions that can contribute to the understanding of how and what they ate.”
Throughout his illustrative speech, Mansberger provided examples and connections to various household items, including the significance wells and pits played in preserving much of the cultural traditions from the 19th century.
“After significant use and time progression, these wells ran dry, and so these inhabitants used them as a garbage can. These wells then transformed into a time capsule filled with artifacts that helped us piece together the dietary habits of each household,” he said.
Such food items included remains of domestic and wild animals, as well as seeds, fruit pits and larger plant remains.
“When we look into the species composition of many of these households, we’ve discovered that deer and fish stayed in the diets much longer than expected,” he said.
He also compared the food habits of individuals to the Lincoln household, one of the more prominent discoveries during the excavation.
“Beef was a very commonly found ingredient in the remains, which isn’t rare, because Lincoln liked his beef steaks,” he said.
Although the project hasn’t finished yet, Mansberger said he continues to find unique and interesting objects. More information about the excavation project, including photos of related items, can be found at illinoisarchaeology.com.