Archaeologists Gather Online to Celebrate the History of The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet dates back thousands of years. Archaeologists want to make sure its history is always preserved.
Fish Mosaic (National Archaeological Museum, Naples)
By Francesca Gorini
Dec. 6, 2021 14:27 UTC

According to Roman mythol­ogy, there were three foods that the gods gave to humankind.

Minerva, the god­dess of wis­dom, gave an olive tree. Demeter, the god­dess of the har­vest, gifted wheat. Dionysus gave Romans the vine.

While the Mediterranean diet is a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors such as his­tory and neces­sity, we also have to con­sider the great pas­sion for food that the civ­i­liza­tions of the past left us.- Elisabetta Moro, co-direc­tor, Mediterranean Diet Virtual Museum

From these three gifts came foods that con­tinue to con­sti­tute three pil­lars of the Mediterranean diet: olive oil, bread and wine.

Archaeologists recently gath­ered online to dis­cuss the his­tory of the diet and cel­e­brate the eleventh anniver­sary of its inclu­sion on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

See Also:Pottery Shards in Croatia Reveal Roman Olive Oil and Military History

Among the guests at the sem­i­nar was the direc­tor of the Naples Archeological Museum, Paolo Giulierini, who led the audi­ence on a jour­ney through ancient sources.

In the coun­tries of the so-called Mezzaluna fer­tile’ – mainly the Mesopotamia region, then neigh­bor­ing coun­tries such as Egypt and the Greek colonies – these three crops have always rep­re­sented a source of wealth and sus­te­nance,” Giulierini said. Somehow, they were the first nucleus’ of what we now call the Mediterranean diet.”

Through the cen­turies, this nucleus has then been enriched thanks to the con­tri­bu­tions from var­i­ous pop­u­la­tions in the Mediterranean area and beyond,” he added. For exam­ple, we have known foods such as rice, toma­toes and some cit­rus fruits since the Middle Ages, not before.”

While fur­ther clues to unravel the past of the Mediterranean diet can come from the obser­va­tion of ancient objects and paint­ings, Giulierini warned against some com­mon mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions.

The every­day life dimen­sion was rarely rep­re­sented in the artis­tic works that have come down to the present day, which often had a cel­e­bra­tory or metaphor­i­cal mean­ing,” he said.


Photo: Mann Museum

Frescoes with ban­quets laden with exotic fruits, sweets or game were the expres­sion of wealthy elites,” Giulierini added. They did not rep­re­sent the lifestyle of largest sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion, whose diet was deter­mined more by the phases of agri­cul­ture than by free choice.”

Objects for the trans­for­ma­tion or con­ser­va­tion of food found in some Pompei vil­las can tell us a lot about the liv­ing stan­dards of the wealth­i­est fam­i­lies; noth­ing about those of the masses,” he con­tin­ued.

That said, we know that in the Roman world agri­cul­ture was the basis for nutri­tion and food sup­ply, and that fish breed­ing was begin­ning to spread,” Giulierini con­cluded. Cattle was essen­tial for agri­cul­ture, and ani­mals were needed alive: the con­sump­tion of meat was, then, lim­ited to a few excep­tional occa­sions.”

See Also:Oldest Known Bottle of Olive Oil on Display in Naples Museum

Giulierini’s full report is avail­able in the online gallery of edu­ca­tional and sci­en­tific con­tri­bu­tions of the Mediterranean Diet Virtual Museum, the first dig­i­tal museum in the world entirely ded­i­cated to the Mediterranean diet.

The museum was cre­ated by MedEatResearch of the University Suor Orsola Benincasa, an Italian aca­d­e­mic research cen­ter in Naples specif­i­cally ded­i­cated to the Mediterranean diet.

Our goal is to enlighten the cul­tural, eco­nomic, anthro­po­log­i­cal, gas­tro­nomic, med­ical, edu­ca­tional and eco­log­i­cal aspects of the Mediterranean diet,” said Marino Niola, an anthro­pol­o­gist and one of the museum’s direc­tors.

To achieve this, the museum will present our ethno­graphic research work and our stud­ies on longevity through pub­lic activ­i­ties such as sem­i­nars and con­fer­ences, and also by mak­ing avail­able videos and liv­ing tes­ti­monies’ of local pro­duc­ers, artists, sci­en­tists and cit­i­zens who recall the peas­ant soci­ety of the past,” he added.

Co-direc­tor Elisabetta Moro added: While the Mediterranean diet is a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors such as his­tory and neces­sity, we also have to con­sider the great pas­sion for food that the civ­i­liza­tions of the past left us.”

Over the cen­turies, this pas­sion has become a dis­tinc­tive fea­ture of our soci­ety,” she con­cluded. Now the chal­lenge is to pre­serve it and to enhance it through a food edu­ca­tional path involv­ing soci­ety at large and, above all, young gen­er­a­tions.”


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