The Dietary Impact of the Norman Conquest

Norman dining depicted on the Bayeux Tapestry

The Norman Conquest of 1066 is a key event in English history best known for its impact on political and the economic life, especially among the ruling classes. While the impact of the Conquest on elite culture is fairly well understood by historians, contributions to the study of Norman England from archaeologists have been more limited. In consequence, we know less of the implications for ordinary people whose lives feature less in documentary records of the time. One area which allows us to explore the cultural impact of Conquest on all echelons of society is the study of diet and cuisine.

This project was inspired to apply ground breaking scientific techniques to explore changes in diet and cuisine brought about by the Norman Conquest as a result of our involvement in the AHRC-funded Archaeologies of the Norman Conquest Network led by Aleks McClain and Naomi Sykes. Using a range of analytical approaches, the project seeks to explore diet at a range of scales. 

This was achieved through a study of material from Oxford:

  • Analysis of absorbed food residues in pre- and post-Conquest pottery
  • Stable isotope analysis of pre- and post-Conquest human and faunal skeletons to understand change in the diet of humans and animals
  • Incremental stable isotope analysis of pre- and post-Conquest individuals. 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
  • Palaeopathological analysis of pre- and post-Conquest skeletons to assess physiological health and dietary-linked diseases
  • Synthesis of existing analyses of zooarchaeological and archaeobotanical evidence
Bone sample analysis in the lab

The project is a collaboration between Dr Lizzy Craig-Atkins, Dr Ben Jervis and Dr Richard Madgwick (Cardiff University). Analysis was undertaken by research teams at the Universities of Sheffield, Cardiff and Bristol. 

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 two 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.