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The economy of food in the ancient Near East


Admission requirements

Propedeuse (first year) Archaeology obtained.


Although perhaps the biggest cliché in recorded human history, the proverb ‘you are what you eat’ has spawned a wealth of archaeological research. From hunter-gatherer societies to empires, food is crucial to the organisation of our economies. In order to survive, people need daily rations of calories and nutrients. What people gathered or grew, and how they processed this in order to feed themselves has therefore always been a cornerstone in archaeological interpretations of past societies.

The archaeology of food has currently moved beyond considerations of efficiency and adaptation to embrace insights from anthropology showing that food styles are deeply culturally embedded. What people ate and drank and the manner in which they served food and drink has always played a major role in ideologies, cosmologies and social identities. In this course we review some of the theoretical schools with regard to the relationships humans have with their food. A range of famous archaeological case studies from the ancient Near East from early history to Ottoman times will be discussed.

Course objectives

  • Acquaintance with current interpretative debates concerning the roles of food in the economies, the socio-political structures and the ideologies of societies in the ancient Near East;

  • Detailed knowledge on selected key case studies and the archaeological debates in the literature associated with these topics;

  • Practice the ability to critically assess current research and literature, and to formulate a well-argued opinion in discussions;

  • Practice skills in summarising the current status of a specific topic and present this in a presentation (PowerPoint);

  • Practice writing a balanced essay, expressing a critical assessment of relevant literature and one’s own well-argued opinion, making use of feedback from group discussions and students’ presentations.


Course schedule details can be found in the bachelor 3 time schedule.

Mode of instruction

  • Lectures by teachers;

  • Presentations by students;

  • Discussion.

Course load

The course load will be distributed as follows:

  • Seminar and discussion (1 ects);

  • 280 pages of literature (2 ects);

  • Presentation and final essay (2 ects).

Assessment method

  • Active participation in class discussions (20%);

  • Quality of the student class presentation (40%);

  • Quality of the final essay (40%), between 3,000-4,000 words.

Prior to each class students read literature and provide a summary with discussion points, these must be submitted a day before class.
All essays should be submitted through SafeAssign and as pdf; the final essay should also be submitted in print.

All assessment deadlines (exams, retakes, paper deadlines etc.) can be found in the examination schedule.

Reading list

A general, theorethical-archaeological reading list will be provided to participants prior to the first meeting. Teachers will provide key literature relevant to specific case studies prior to each assignment for presentation. Students will assemble additional reading for case studies as part of their presentation.


Registration for the course is not necessary, registration for the exam is mandatory. For instructions, see the Registration in uSis page.


For more information about this course, please contact dr. O.P. Nieuwenhuyse.