What did Norman farmers eat

Norman conquest changed the menu

The Norman conquest of England in 1066 was an event that had a decisive impact on the history, language and culture of the British Isles. Now, an archaeological study shows that with the arrival of the Normans, the diet of the common population also changed slightly: Improved methods of agriculture meant that pork and chicken were on the menu more often.

Before the arrival of the Normans under William II, England was shaped by the Anglo-Saxons for centuries. These tribes, which belong to the Germanic cultural area, have dominated the south and east of the country since the end of Roman rule. But in the eleventh century constant attacks by the Vikings and the death of the Anglo-Saxon King Edward the Confessors in January 1066 led to a power vacuum.

One of the nobles competing for the throne was William II, Duke of Normandy, who was related to the Anglo-Saxon kings through the marriage of one of his female ancestors. At the end of September 1066 he crossed the canal with a fleet and began to conquer England. In October there was a decisive victory of the Normans over the Anglo-Saxons at Hastings, as a result of which they gradually gained control of the country.

How did ordinary people's way of life change?

In the years after the conquest, a Norman upper class established itself, which ruled with a hard hand over the Anglo-Saxon majority. Little by little, there was a mix of cultures and languages, especially within the country's aristocrats. But whether and how the Norman conquest changed the life of the common population has so far hardly been investigated - also because there is a lack of written records about it. That is why Elizabeth Craig-Atkins of the University of Sheffield and her colleagues have now chosen an archaeological approach.

"By examining archaeological evidence of the diet and health of the common people who lived during this period, we can get a detailed picture of their everyday experiences and lifestyle," explains Craig-Atkins. For their study, she and her team analyzed the isotope ratios in the bones and teeth of 35 dead who were buried near Oxford between the 10th and 13th centuries, as well as 60 animal bones from the same time and area. In addition, they carried out chemical analyzes of vessel residues. “It was only through this eclectic range of methods that we were able to find out how the Conquest affected the health and diet of the non-elite,” says Cardiff University co-author Richard Madgwick.

Intensification of livestock farming

The analyzes showed that the change in rule only brought difficulties for the simple population for a short time. In the long term, however, they benefited from the arrival of the Normans: "There is evidence that people back then experienced periods when food was scarce," reports Craig-Atkins. These shortage times could be read from the teeth. During and shortly after the Norman conquest, there were temporary food shortages. However, the researchers found no evidence that this caused any more serious health problems such as scurvy or rickets.

A little later the situation of the population improved noticeably. "An intensification of agriculture meant that people had a steady supply of food," report the archaeologists. As before, the menu consisted of a lot of vegetables, grains and sheep. In addition, people ate less dairy products and more pork and poultry, as confirmed by the animal bones. The researchers attribute this to the fact that the Normans introduced new, standardized practices in livestock farming that made them more productive. They also intensified pig breeding, which also made meat more affordable for farmers.

Source: Cardiff University; Technical article: PLOS ONE, doi: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0235005

7th July 2020

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