4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

Food / Wine / Cookery / Diet Timeline


2,800,000 BCE – 8,000 BCE

Early Humans Make Bone Tools Circa 1,500,000 BCE

Five bone tools excavated in Swartkrans, South Africa, once used by Parantrhopus robustus for foraging purposes. Photography by Jim Di Loreto and Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution. (View Larger)

Experiments and microscopic studies show that the ends of bone tools found in Swartkrans, Republic of South Africa, were used by early humans to dig in termite mounds about 1.5 million years ago.

"Through repeated use, the ends became rounded and polished. Termites are rich in protein and would have been a nutritious source of food for Paranthropus robustus" (http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/behavior/bone-tools, accessed 05-10-2010).

(This entry was last revised on 04-16-2014.)

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The Earliest Hearths Circa 1,500,000 BCE – 790,000 BCE

Scorched stone tools excavated in 2004 at Gesher Benot-Ya-aqov, in Israel, provide evidence for the existence of early hearths. Photograph by Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution. (View Larger)

"The earliest hearths are at least 790,000 years old, and some researchers think cooking may reach back more than 1.5 million years. Control of fire provided a new tool with several uses—including cooking, which led to a fundamental change in the early human diet. Cooking released nutrients in foods and made them easier to digest. It also rid some plants of poisons.

"Over time, early humans began to gather at hearths and shelters to eat and socialize. As brains became larger and more complex, growing up took longer—requiring more parental care and the protective environment of a home. Expanding social networks led, eventually, to the complex social lives of modern humans" (http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/behavior/hearths-shelters, accessed 05-10-2010).

Fire-altered stone tools found in 2004 at Gesher Benot-Ya’aqov, Israel by a team led by Naama Goren-Inbar include stone tools scorched by fire close to concentrations of burnt seeds and wood, indicative of early hearths

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Hunting Large Animals With Spears Circa 500,000 BCE

Photocredit: James Di Loreto, & Donald H. Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution. (View Larger)

A fragment of a horse shoulder blade discovered by a team led by Mark Roberts at Boxgrove, England "contains a semicircular wound made by a weapon such as a spear, indicating it was killed by early humans. Other horse bones from the same site have butchery marks from stone tools" (http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/behavior/punctured-horse-shoulder-blade. accessed 05-10-2010).

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Tools for Capturing Fast or Dangerous Prey Circa 104,000 BCE

A projectile point, estimated to be over 104,000 years old, uncovered in Omo Kibish, Ethipia. Photocredit: Chip Clark, Smithsonian Institution. (View Larger)

Stone or bone projectile points, such as those found in Omo Kibish, Ethiopia, attached to spears or darts, enabled humans to exploit fast-moving prey like birds and large, dangerous prey like mammoths.

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Katanda Bone Harpoon Point 88,000 BCE – 78,000 BCE

The Katanda Bone Harpoon Point. Photocredit: Smithsonian Institution.

In 1988 Allison Brooks and John Yellin discovered a bone harpoon point in Katanda, Democratic Republic of Congo.

"Humans in Central Africa used some of the earliest barbed points, like this harpoon point, to spear huge prehistoric catfish weighing as much as 68 kg (150 lb)–enough to feed 80 people for two days. Later, humans used harpoons to hunt large, fast marine mammals" (http://humanorigins.si.edu/evidence/behavior/katanda-bone-harpoon-point, accessed 0510-2010)

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The Oldest Fish Hooks and Evidence of Paleolithic Offshore Fishing Circa 21,000 BCE – 16,000 BCE

Fish hooks made of shell found in the Jerimalai Cave in East Timor. (Click on image to view larger.)

Excavation site in Jerimalai Cave in East Timor. (Click on image to view larger.)

Jerimalai Cave in East Timor contains the oldest evidence of occupation by modern humans on the islands that were the stepping stones from South-East Asia to Australia. In 2011 Sue O'Connor and colleagues from the Australian National University in Canberra found two broken fish hooks made from shells at Jerimalai cave. The hooks, which dated between 21,000 and 16,000 BCE are the earliest fish hooks known.

"The team also found more than 38,000 fish bones at the site, dating the oldest back to 42,000 years ago. Some were from inshore species, but almost half were from 'pelagic species' — fish that dwell in the open ocean, providing the oldest known evidence of humans fishing far from shore. The most commonly found pelagic species at the site were Tuna, but there was also evidence of humans eating sharks and rays, among others.

“ 'That these types of fish were being routinely caught 40,000 years ago is extraordinary,' says O'Connor. 'It requires complex technology and shows that early modern humans in island South East Asia had amazingly advanced maritime skills.' "

"Far older fish bones have been found at sites in southern Africa – those at the Blombos Cave in South Africa, for example, date from 140,000–50,000 years ago – but they have generally been from inshore species whose capture would require less complex technology2. A small number of tuna vertebrae have been found, but these can be attributed to scavenging of fish washed up on beaches, says Richard Klein, an archaeologist at Stanford University in California, who has worked extensively in the region. The oldest known fishing tackle from the vicinity dates from around 12,000 years ago, but it includes only bone gorges (straight hooks) and net sinkers, probably used exclusively inshore, he adds" (http://www.nature.com/news/archaeologists-land-world-s-oldest-fish-hook-1.9461#b1, accessed 01-18-2013).

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The Oldest Known Pottery Circa 18,000 BCE

Two of the 20,000 year-old pottery fragments found in the Xianrendong Cave in China.  Photo by AFP/Science/AAAS. (Click on image to view larger.)

Fragments of pottery 20,000 years old found in Xianrendong Cave in Jiangxi Province, southern China, in 2012 are the oldest known pottery. Archaeological studies of the cave indicate that it was inhabited by mobile foragers who hunted and gathered during the Last Glacial Maximum. The vessels, which may have been concave, were probably used for cooking food. The site in which the pottery fragments were found is one of the earliest kitchens.

Xiaohong Wu, Chi Zhang, Paul Goldberg, David Cohen, Yan Pan, Trina Arpin, Ofer Bar-Yosef, "Early Pottery at 20,000 Years Ago in Xianrendong Cave, China," Science 29, June 2012, 1696-1700.  

Images of the pottery were published in The New York Times on June 28, 2012.

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8,000 BCE – 1,000 BCE

The Earliest Known Fermented Beverage Circa 7,000 BCE

Chemical analyses of ancient organic compounds absorbed into pottery jars from the early Neolithic village of Jiahu in Henan province in China show that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey, and fruit (hawthorn fruit and/or grape) was being produced about 7000 BCE. The rice was probably prepared for fermentation by mastication or malting,

"This prehistoric drink paved the way for unique cereal beverages of the proto-historic second millennium B.C., remarkably preserved as liquids inside sealed bronze vessels of the Shang and Western Zhou Dynasties. These findings provide direct evidence for fermented beverages in ancient Chinese culture, which were of considerable social, religious, and medical significance, and help elucidate their earliest descriptions in the Shang Dynasty oracle inscriptions.

"Throughout history and around the world, human societies at every level of complexity discovered how to make fermented beverages from sugar sources available in their local habitats. This nearly universal phenomenon of fermented beverage production is explained by ethanol's combined analgesic, disinfectant, and profound mind-altering effects. Moreover, fermentation helps to preserve and enhance the nutritional value of foods and beverages. Because of their perceived pharmacological, nutritional, and sensory benefits, fermented beverages thus have played key roles in the development of human culture and technology, contributing to the advance and intensification of agriculture, horticulture, and food-processing techniques. Among all strata of society, they have marked major life events, from birth to death, as well as victories, auspicious events, and harvests, etc. Rulers and “upper class” individuals with leisure and resources particularly were drawn to feasting on a grand scale, which often featured special fermented beverages served in and drunk from special vessels. In their most developed form, such celebrations were formalized into secular or religious ceremonies for the society at large.

"How does ancient China, one of the primal centers for the rise of human civilization, fit into this picture of fermented beverage production, conspicuous consumption, and celebratory and ritual activities that are so well documented archaeologically, historically, and ethnographically elsewhere? Based on the oracle inscriptions from the late Shang Dynasty [circa (ca.) 1200–1046 before Christ (B.C.)], the earliest texts from China, at least three beverages were distinguished: chang (an herbal wine), li (probably a sweet, low-alcoholic rice or millet beverage), and jiu (a fully fermented and filtered rice or millet beverage or “wine,” with an alcoholic content of probably 10–15% by weight). According to inscriptions, the Shang palace administration included officials who made the beverages, which sometimes were inspected by the king. Fermented beverages and other foods were offered as sacrifices to royal ancestors in various forms of bronze vessels, likely accompanied by elite feasting. Later documents, incorporating traditions from the Zhou period (ca. 1046–221 B.C.), describe another two beverages: luo (likely made from a fruit) and lao (an unfiltered, fermented rice or millet beverage or the unfermented wort).  

"A much earlier history for fermented beverages in China has long been hypothesized based on the similar shapes and styles of Neolithic pottery vessels to the magnificent Shang Dynasty bronze vessels, which were used to present, store, serve, drink, and ritually present fermented beverages during that period. By using a combined chemical, archaeobotanical, and archaeological approach, we present evidence here that ancient Chinese fermented beverage production does indeed extend back nearly nine millennia. Moreover, our analyses of unique liquid samples from tightly lidded bronze vessels, dated to the Shang/Western Zhou Dynasties (ca. 1250–1000 B.C.), reveal that refinements in beverage production took place over the ensuing 5,000 years, including the development of a special saccharification (amylolysis) fermentation system in which fungi break down the polysaccharides in rice and millet" (Patrick E. McGovern, Juzhong Zhang, et al, "Fermented beverages of pre-and proto-historic China," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Published online before print December 8, 2004, 101, no. 51, December 21, 2004, 17593-17598.)

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The Earliest Evidence of Cheese-Making in Europe Circa 5,500 BCE – 5,000 BCE

Fragment of clay sieve from central Europe.  Credit: Mélanie Salque. (Click on image to view larger.)

A sketch of a sieve reconstructed from ancient potsherds that may have been used in early cheese-making. Credit: Mélanie Salque. (Click on image to view larger).

Traces of dairy fat in unglazed ceramic strainer fragments about 7000 years old found in Kuyavia, Poland provided the first unequivocal evidence that neolithic humans made cheese. 

"The introduction of dairying was a critical step in early agriculture, with milk products being rapidly adopted as a major component of the diets of prehistoric farmers and pottery-using late hunter-gatherers. The processing of milk, particularly the production of cheese, would have been a critical development because it not only allowed the preservation of milk products in a non-perishable and transportable form, but also it made milk a more digestible commodity for early prehistoric farmers. The finding of abundant milk residues in pottery vessels from seventh millennium sites from north-western Anatolia provided the earliest evidence of milk processing, although the exact practice could not be explicitly defined. Notably, the discovery of potsherds pierced with small holes appear at early Neolithic sites in temperate Europe in the sixth millennium BC and have been interpreted typologically as ‘cheese-strainers’, although a direct association with milk processing has not yet been demonstrated. Organic residues preserved in pottery vessels have provided direct evidence for early milk use in the Neolithic period in the Near East and south-eastern Europe, north Africa, Denmark and the British Isles, based on the δ13C and Δ13C values of the major fatty acids in milk. Here we apply the same approach to investigate the function of sieves/strainer vessels, providing direct chemical evidence for their use in milk processing. The presence of abundant milk fat in these specialized vessels, comparable in form to modern cheese strainers, provides compelling evidence for the vessels having being used to separate fat-rich milk curds from the lactose-containing whey. This new evidence emphasizes the importance of pottery vessels in processing dairy products, particularly in the manufacture of reduced-lactose milk products among lactose-intolerant prehistoric farming communities" (Mélanie Salque, Peter Bogucki, et al, "Earliest evidence for cheese making in the sixth millenium bc in northern Europe," (Nature [2012] doi:10.1038/nature11698, accessed 12-12-2012).

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The Earliest Known Winery Circa 4,000 BCE

From National Geographic. (View Larger)

Between 2007 and September 2010 archaeologists found the earliest known wine press for stomping grapes, fermentation and storage vessels, drinking cups, and withered grape vines, skins and seeds--the earliest, most reliable evidence of wine production--in the Areni-1 cave near the village of Areni, Armenia.

"The cave has also offered surprising new insights into the origins of modern civilizations, such as evidence of a wine-making enterprise and an array of culturally diverse pottery. Excavations also yielded an extensive array of Copper Age artifacts dating to between 6,200 and 5,900 years ago. The new discoveries within the cave move early bronze-age cultural activity in Armenia back by about 800 years. Additional discoveries at the site include metal knives, seeds from more than 30 types of fruit, remains of dozens of cereal species, rope, cloth, straw, grass, reeds and dried grapes and prunes.

"In January 2011 archaeologists announced the discovery of the earliest known winery, seven months after the world's oldest leather shoe, the Areni-1 shoe, was discovered in the same cave. The winery, which is over six-thousand years old, contains a wine press, fermentation vats, jars, and cups. Archaeologists also found grape seeds and vines of the species Vitis vinifera. Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania, commenting on the importance of the find, said, 'The fact that winemaking was already so well developed in 4000 BC suggests that the technology probably goes back much earlier' " (Wikipedia article on Areni, accessed 01-16-2011).

An image of the "wine press" and "fermentation vat" found at Areni was illustrated in the following article in National Geographic Newshttp://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/01/110111-oldest-wine-press-making-winery-armenia-science-ucla/, accessed 01-16-2011)

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Horse Domestication Revolutionizes Transportation, Communication, and Warfare Circa 3,500 BCE

The Botai culture originated from the Akmola province of Kazakhstan, highlighted in green. (View Larger)

Horse domestication revolutionized transportation, accelerated communication, and transformed warfare in prehistory.  Yet the identification of early domestication processes has been problematic.

In a paper published in the journal Science on March 6, 2009 archaeologist Alan K. Outram and seven co-authors published "three independent lines of evidence demonstrating domestication in the Eneolithic Botai Culture of Kazakhstan, dating to about 3500 B.C.E. Metrical analysis of horse metacarpals shows that Botai horses resemble Bronze Age domestic horses rather than Paleolithic wild horses from the same region. Pathological characteristics indicate that some Botai horses were bridled, perhaps ridden. Organic residue analysis, using δ13C and δD values of fatty acids, reveals processing of mare's milk and carcass products in ceramics, indicating a developed domestic economy encompassing secondary products" (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/323/5919/1332, accessed 03-06-2009).

Prior to discovery of this evidence horse domestication was thought to have occurred around 2500 BCE.

♦ Before horses were domesticated it appears that prehistoric people mainly killed horses for food.  One of the most celebrated collections of horse and reindeer bones was found beneath the precipice at the paleolithic site of Solutré in France.  Though prehistoric people primarily hunted the reindeer for food and other necessities of life, an explanation for the immense deposit of bones at Solutré is that prehistoric people stampeded reindeer and horses over the cliff as a means of killing them.

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The Oldest Known Well-Preserved Leather Shoe Circa 3,500 BCE

The Areni-1 shoe. (View Larger)

The Areni-1 shoe, a 5,500-year-old leather shoe, found in 2008 in excellent condition in the "Areni-1" cave located in the Vayots Dzor province of Armenia, is a one-piece leather-hide shoe that has been dated as a few hundred years older than the one found on Ötzi the Iceman, making it the oldest piece of leather footwear in the world known to contemporary researchers.

"Much older footwear, 10,000 year old sandals made of sagebrush fiber, has been discovered in the United States at Fort Rock Cave in Oregon. By evidence found to date, the use of shoes arose between 40,000 and 26,000 years ago. The discovery was made by a team led by archaeologist Ron Pinhasi of University College Cork in Ireland.

"The shoe was found in near-perfect condition due to the cool and dry conditions in the cave and a thick layer of sheep dung which acted as a solid seal. Large storage containers were found in the same cave, many of which held well-preserved wheat, barley, and apricots, as well as other edible plants. The shoe contained grass and the archaeologists were uncertain as to whether this was because the grass was used as insulation to keep the foot warm, or used to preserve the shape of the shoe while not being worn. Lead archaeologist Ron Pinhasi could not determine whether the shoe belonged to a man or a woman. While small, approximately a woman's U.S. and Canada size 7, European size 37, or UK size 6, he stated that "the shoe could well have fitted a man from that era". The shoe laces were preserved as well.

"Major similarities exist between the manufacturing technique and style of one-piece leather-hide shoes discovered across Europe and the one reported from Areni-1 Cave, suggesting that shoes of this type were worn for millennia across a large and environmentally diverse geographic region. According to Pinhasi, the Areni-1 shoe is similar to the Irish pampooties, a shoe style worn in the Aran Islands up to the 1950s. The shoes are very similar to the traditional shoes of the Balkans, still seen today in festivals, known as Opanci (Opanke)." (Wikipedia article on Areni-1 shoe, accessed 01-16-2011).

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The First Prehistoric Human Ever Found with his Everyday Clothing and Equipment Circa 3,300 BCE

Model of Ötzi the Iceman in exhibit at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.

Mummified corpse of Ötzi the Iceman.

The most important item of the Iceman’s equipment is his copper-bladed axe.

The two separate leggings, which the Iceman was still wearing when he was discovered, are made of several pieces of domestic goat hide carefully cross-stitched together with animal sinew.

In September 1991 Ötzi, also called Ötzi the Iceman, the Similaun Man, the Man from Hauslabjoch, Homo tyrolensis, and the Hauslabjoch mummy, was discovered  in the Ötztal Alps near the Mt. Similaun and Hauslabjoch on the border between Austria and Italy. Radiocarbon tests consistently dated the body and associated objects within a range of 3365-2940 BCE. Because the body was preserved in ice for over 5000 years it had only partially deteriorated when it was discovered. 

"Anthropologists are particularly interested in the items found with him, which constitute a unique time-capsule of the stuff of everyday life, may of them made of organic materials that were preserved by the cold and ice. An astonishing variety of woods, and a range of very sophsticated tecyniques of work with leather and grasses can be seen in the collection of seventy objects that have added a new dimension to our knowledge of the period.

The axe, 60 cm (24 in) in length, has a head of copper that was bound to the yew-wood handle with leather thongs. The bow, of yew wood, was almost 180 cm. (6 ft) long. One side is flat, the other rounded. Its odour at room temperature suggests it was smeared with blood or fat to keep it pliable. A quiver of deerskin contained fourteen arrows, only two of which were ready for use. Their 75 cm (30 in) shafts, made of two pieces, were of dogwood and viburnum wood, and had points of stone or bone fixed to them by pitch. The two finished arrows had double-side points of flint and triple feathering whose placement meant the missiles would spin in flight and indicates an advanced ballistic design. The quiver also contained an untreated sinew (possibly for use as a bowstring), a ball of fibrous cord ,bone or antler spines tied togehter with grass, and various objects of flint and bone, together with pitch - it may ahve constituted some kind of repair kit.

"The dagger or knife has a sharp flint blade, only about 4 cm (1.5 in) long set into an 8 cm (3 in) ash-wood handle. Polish on the blade indicates that it was used to cut grass. A woven grass sheath was also found. What was orignally assumed to be a stone-pointed fire-striker was found to be a thick 'pencil' of linden wood with a central spine of bone, probably used for retouching and sharpening flint objects. A U-shaped stick of hazel and two cross-boards of larch are thought to be the frame of a backpack that may have contained some animal bones and residues of the skin of chamois and other small animals, found nearby: blood residues from chamois, ibex and deer have been found on some of the implements" (Paul G. Hahn (ed) 100 Great Archaeological Discoveries [1995] 85).

Ötzi's body and belongings are preserved in the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology in Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy.

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The Word Bibliography is Derived from a Greek Word for Papyrus Circa 3,100 BCE – 3,050 BCE

The pith of the papyrus plant was used in Egypt at least as far back as the First dynasty, for boats, mattresses, mats and as a writing surface. The Egyptian word papyrus, meaning "that of the king," may indicate a Pharonic monopoly in the period.

"The English word papyrus derives, via Latin, from Greek πάπυρος papyros. Greek has a second word for papyrus, βύβλος byblos (said to derive from the name of the Phoenician city of Byblos). The Greek writer Theophrastus, who flourished during the 4th century BC, uses papuros when referring to the plant used as a foodstuff and bublos for the same plant when used for non-food products, such as cordage, basketry, or a writing surface. The more specific term βίβλος biblos, which finds its way into English in such words as bibliography, bibliophile, and bible, refers to the inner bark of the papyrus plant. Papyrus is also the etymon of paper, a similar substance" (Wikipedia article on Papyrus, accessed 01-03-2010).

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Probably the Most Ancient Surviving Fermented Beverages Circa 1,900 BCE – 700 BCE

In 2004 tightly lidded bronze vessels from the city of Anyang and elite burials excavated at major urban centers along the Yellow River or its tributaries in Hebei, Henan, and Shanxi provinces of northern China, including Erlitou, Zhengzhou, Taixi, and Tianhu, dating to the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties, were shown from archaeochemical analysis by University of Pennsylvania archaeochemist Patrick E. McGovern to contain samples of fermented beverages in their liquid state. 

"Most often, they [the fermented liquids] have been recovered from the elite burials of high-ranking individuals. The shapes of many of the bronze vessels [ornate tripod vessels (jue and jia), stemmed goblets (gu), vats (zun), and jars (hu, lei, and you)] imply that they were used to prepare, store, serve, drink, and ceremonially present fermented beverages, which is supported by textual evidence. Besides serving as burial goods to sustain the dead in the afterlife, the vessels and their contents also can be related to funerary ceremonies in which intermediaries communicated with the deceased ancestor and gods in an altered state of consciousness after imbibing a fermented beverage

"The fragrant aroma of the liquids inside the tightly lidded jars and vats, when their lids were first removed after some 3,000 years, suggests that they indeed represent Shang/Western Zhou fermented beverages. The Changzikou Tomb vessels, one of which is reported on here, exemplify this phenomenon: of more than 90 bronze vessels in the tomb, 52 lidded examples were still a quarter- to half-full of liquid (15). Most recently (early 2003), an excavation of an upper-class tomb in Xi'an yielded a lidded vessel holding 26 liters of what was described as a liquid with a “delicious aroma and light flavor” (G.C., unpublished data). What accounts for such amazing preservation of liquids, which would be anticipated to have evaporated and disappeared? Chinese bronze-making technology assured that the lids were tightly fitted to the mouths of vessels. Then, over time, the lids corroded and cut off further exchange with the outside atmosphere, hermetically sealing off any liquid remaining inside the vessels.  

"Previous attempts to identify the compounds responsible for the aromas of the liquids contained in the Shang/Western Zhou lidded bronze vessels, as well as other basic ingredients, have been largely inconclusive or are unpublished. Positive evidence for yeast cells was obtained from an 8.5-kg solid white residue inside a weng jar at Taixi, probably the lees of a fermented beverage. Habitation contexts at Taixi also yielded specific pottery forms, including a funnel and a deep vat with a pointed and recessed bottom (“general's helmet”), which were likely used in beverage-making (3, 5). Several jars at this site also contained peach, plum, and Chinese date (jujube) pits, as well as seeds of sweet clover, jasmine, and hemp, suggesting that an herbal fruit drink was prepared.  

"Our analyses of the liquids inside lidded jars from Anyang and the Changzikou Tomb can be summarized briefly. Beeswax and epicuticular wax compounds were absent, implying the absence of honey or a plant additive. Tartaric acid and its salts were present at a very low level only in the Changzikou Tomb, consistent with mold saccharification of rice. Although the Changzikou Tomb sample gave a δ13C value of –25.3‰ in accord with a C3 plant such as rice (Table 1), the stable isotope determination for the Anyang liquid (–15.9‰) indicated that a C4 plant was used as a principal ingredient. Millet, which is well represented in the Anyang archaeobotanical corpus, is the most likely candidate" (Patrick E. McGovern, Juzhong Zhang, et al, "Fermented beverages of pre-and proto-historic China," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Published online before print December 8, 2004, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0407921102 PNAS December 21, 2004 vol. 101 no. 51 17593-17598, accessed 01-11-2013)

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Probably the Earliest Surviving Recipe for Making Beer Circa 1,800 BCE

Evidence for brewing beer in Mesopotamia dates back to 3500-3100 BCE at the Sumerian settlement of Godin Tepe, an archaeological site in western Iran In 1992, archaeologists discovered chemical traces of beer in a fragmented jar dating to the mid-fourth century BCE. The same site also yielded evidence for early wine-making.

The Hymn to Ninkasi, the ancient Sumerian matron goddess of beer and alcohol, is probably the earliest surviving recipe for making beer. It's date is estimated at 1800 BCE. It is believed that recording the recipe in song or poetry may have served as a mnemonic for a people that was primarily illiterate. An English translation of the Hymn from the University of Oxford Electronic Text Corpus (ETCSLtranslation: t.4.23.1) reads as follows: 

"A hymn to Ninkasi (Ninkasi A)

"1-4. Given birth by the flowing water ……, tenderly cared for by Ninḫursaĝa! Ninkasi, given birth by the flowing water ……, tenderly cared for by Ninḫursaĝa!

"5-8. Having founded your town upon wax, she completed its great walls for you. Ninkasi, having founded your town upon wax, she completed its great walls for you.

"9-12. Your father is Enki, Lord Nudimmud, and your mother is Ninti, the queen of the abzu. Ninkasi, your father is Enki, Lord Nudimmud, and your mother is Ninti, the queen of the abzu.

"13-16. It is you who handle the …… and dough with a big shovel, mixing, in a pit, the beerbread with sweet aromatics. Ninkasi, it is you who handle the …… and dough with a big shovel, mixing, in a pit, the beerbread with sweet aromatics.

"17-20. It is you who bake the beerbread in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain. Ninkasi, it is you who bake the beerbread in the big oven, and put in order the piles of hulled grain.

"21-24. It is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates (?). Ninkasi, it is you who water the earth-covered malt; the noble dogs guard it even from the potentates (?).

"25-28. It is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall. Ninkasi, it is you who soak the malt in a jar; the waves rise, the waves fall.

"29-32. It is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes ……. Ninkasi, it is you who spread the cooked mash on large reed mats; coolness overcomes …….

"33-36. It is you who hold with both hands the great sweetwort, brewing it with honey and wine. Ninkasi, it is you who hold with both hands the great sweetwort, brewing it with honey and wine.


"1 line fragmentary You …… the sweetwort to the vessel. Ninkasi, ……. You …… the sweetwort to the vessel.

"41-44. You place the fermenting vat, which makes a pleasant sound, appropriately on top of a large collector vat. Ninkasi, you place the fermenting vat, which makes a pleasant sound, appropriately on top of a large collector vat.

"45-48. It is you who pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates. Ninkasi, it is you who pour out the filtered beer of the collector vat; it is like the onrush of the Tigris and the Euphrates" (accessed 01-12-2013).

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The Earliest Surviving Recipes Circa 1,700 BCE

YBC 4644, one of three tablets in Yale's collection inscribed with ancient recipes.

We have a general knowledge of the foodstuffs that comprised the diets of the Egyptians, Hittites, Phoenicians, and Hebrews, but lack recipes from those ancient cultures.

Among Yale University’s collection of cuneiform tablets are three tablets, each containing a recipe collection—a total of 35 recipes. Composed in the middle of the Old Babylonian period, fhey are the world’s oldest cookbooks. The tablets were deciphered and translated by Jean Bottéro and Teresa Lavender Fagan in The Oldest Cuisine in the World: Cooking in Mesopotamia (2004). The recipes are difficult to understand for several reasons:

"broken and damaged passages, obscure colloquial Akkadian, unknown vocabulary and technical language. In fact, some of the cooking ingredients are still completely unknown to us; and others, which have been identified, have passed from modern use, so we cannot appreciate what they really are. Add to this the fact that the cooking procedures are not precise, and neither cooking times nor quantities of ingredients are given, then one can appreciate the obstacle of reproducing the recipes accurately and faithfully. Nevertheless, the lack of specificity provides some leeway and leaves room for interpretation, without, hopefully, sacrificing authenticity.

"All of the recipes have one thing in common: every one of the finished dishes relies on combinations of meat, fowl, vegetables, or grain cooked in water. Cooking in water was an enormous innovation. From other kinds of evidence, we know that before this time entirely different cooking methods were used, like the use of radiant heat in an oven; indirect heat in hot ashes; and direct exposure to flame, as in broiling, grilling, or spit roasting. Cooking in liquid represented a giant step forward in terms of taste and sophistication. It created a richness and diversity of flavor that could not be achieved in the more ancient roasted, grilled, and broiled food" (http://homepage.mac.com/toke_knudsen/cuneiform_cuisine/Personal84.html, accessed 06-15-2009).

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The Uluburun Shipwreck 1,375 BCE

The Uluburun shipwreck, a Late Bronze Age shipwreck discovered off Uluburun (Grand Cape) about 6 miles southeast of Kas in south-western Turkey, contained one of the most extensive surviving cargos excavated from the Mediterranean sea. As a result of 22,413 dives from 1984 to 1994 a multitude of items of raw material used in trade were excavated. Prior to the discovery of this shipwreck most of these items had been known primarily from ancient texts or Egyptian tomb paintings. The cargo matches many of the royal gifts listed in the Amarna letters.

The cargo, preserved in the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology in Bodrum Castle, Bodrum, Turkey, included the following:

"♦ Copper and tin ingots

Raw copper cargo totaling ten tons, consisting of a total of 354 ingots of the oxhide (rectangular with handholds extending from each corner) type. Out of the total amount of ingots at least 31 unique two-handled ingots were identified that were most likely shaped this way to assist the process of loading ingots onto specially designed saddles or harnesses for ease of transport over long distances by pack animals. 121 copper bun and oval ingots. The oxhide ingots were originally stowed in 4 distinct rows across the ship’s hold, which either slipped down the slope after the ship sank or shifted as the hull settled under the weight of the cargo. Approximately one ton of tin (when alloyed with the copper would make about 11 tons of bronze). Tin ingots were oxhide and bun shaped.

"♦ Canaanite jars and Pistacia resin

At least 149 Canaanite jars (widely found in Greece, Cyprus, Syria-Palestine, and Egypt). Jars are categorized as the northern type and were most likely made somewhere in the northern part of modern-day Israel. One jar filled with glass beads, many filled with olives, but the majority contained a substance known as Pistacia (terebinth) resin. Recent clay fabric analyses of Canaanite jar sherds from the 18th-Dynasty site of Tell el-Amarna have produced a specific clay fabric designation, and it is seemingly the same as that from the Uluburun shipwreck, of a type that is exclusively associated in Amarna with transporting Pistacia resin.

"♦ Glass ingots

Approximately 175 glass ingots of cobalt blue turquoise and lavender were found (earliest intact glass ingots known). Chemical composition of cobalt blue glass ingots matches those of contemporary Egyptian core-formed vessels and Mycenaean pendant beads, which suggests a common source.

"♦ Miscellaneous cargo

Logs of blackwood from Africa (referred to as ebony by the Egyptians), Ivory in the form of whole and partial elephant tusks, More than a dozen hippopotamus teeth Tortoise carapaces (upper shells), Murex opercula (possible ingredient for incense),Ostrich eggshells, Cypriot pottery, Cypriot oil lamps. Bronze and copper vessels (four faience drinking cups shaped as rams’ heads and one shaped as a woman’s head), Two duck-shaped ivory cosmetics boxes, Ivory cosmetics or unguent spoon, Trumpet, More than two dozen sea-shell rings, Beads of amber (Baltic origin), Agate, Carnelian, Quartz, Gold, Faience, Glass

"♦ Jewelry, gold, and silver

Collection of usable and scrap gold and silver Canaanite jewelry. Among the 37 gold pieces are: pectorals, medallions, pendants, beads, a small ring ingot, and an assortment of fragments. Biconical chalice (largest gold object from wreck). Egyptian objects of gold, electrum, silver, and steatite (soap stone). Gold scarab inscribed with the name of Nefertiti. Bronze female figurine (head, neck, hands, and feet covered in sheet gold).

"♦ Weapons and tools

Arrowheads, Spearheads, Maces, Daggers, Lugged shaft-hole axe, A single armor scale of Near Eastern type, Four swords (Canaanite, Mycenaean, and Italian(?) types), Large number of tools: sickles, awls, drill bits, a saw, a pair of tongs, chisels, axes, a ploughshare, whetstones, and adzes.

"♦ Pan-balance weights

19 zoomorphic weights (Uluburun weight assemblage is one of the largest and most complete groups of contemporaneous Late Bronze Age weights) 120 geometric-shaped weights

"♦ Foodstuffs

Almonds, Pine nuts, Figs, Olives, Grapes, Safflower, Black cumin,  Sumac, Corianderm Whole pomegranates, A few grains of charred wheat and barley" (Wikipedia article on Uluburn shipwreck, accessed 01-12-2012).

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800 – 900

Apicius's De Re Coquinaria, the Earliest Surviving Cookbook Circa 850

The frontispiece of a 1709 edition of De re coquinaria. (View Larger)

The earliest surviving codex of the earliest cookbook, entitled De re coquinaria, and attributed to Apicius, a gastronome of the first century, was copied at the monastery of Fulda, Germany, by seven different monks. It was written in language that is closer to Vulgar than to Classical Latin, partly in Carolingian minuscule and partly in Anglo-Saxon script of the Fulda type, and because so many hands were involved, it is thought that this manuscript may have been used for training monks in the Fulda scriptorium. The manuscript

"was known to Poggio in 1417, but remained at Fulda until brought to Rome by Enoch of Ascoli in 1455. It subequently had a long series of Italian owners, beginning with Basilios Bessarion, and had sojourned in France and England before it emigrated to the United States in 1929" (L.D. Reynolds, Texts and Transmission [1983] 13-14).

The manuscript of 57 leaves is preserved in the New York Academy of Medicine Library, where it was recently restored and rebound. 

"The book had been rebound in the 18th century by a French book dealer in mottled calf with gilt edges. The book dealer had removed the 9th century binding to separate the Apicius from a text by Hippocrates—the two had been bound together. (The Hippocrates now resides in a collection in Geneva, Switzerland, and is bound in the same 18th century mottled calf as formerly on the Academy’s Apicius manuscript)."

Marcus Gavius Apicius, was a gastronome in the age of Tiberius,

"but the cookbook that bears his name, reveals strands and layers which been selected and combined from various sources, medical and agricultural as well as purely gastonomic, and successively added, as time went on, to what remains of the original Apician recipes. The Excerpta of the Ostrogoth Vinidarius, made a little later, [and preserved in a single eighth century manuscript,] is a highly abbreviated version of a similar compilation. These works were subsequently transmitted, except for the inevitable excerpting, essentially in the forms in which they existed in antiquity" (Reynolds & Wilson 235).

A slightly later and more elegant copy of Apicius is preserved in the Vatican Library (Urb. Lat. 1146) It was written and illuminated at Tours in the 9th century, under Abbot Vivian. Bernard Bischoff believed that this manuscript was produced as a gift for Charles the Bald. A facsimile of this manuscript was produced by Trident Editore in 2014.

Apicius's work was first printed in Milano by Guillaume le Signerre on January 20, 1498.  ISTC No.: ia00921000. In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the first printed edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 01-14-2015.)

Reynolds & Wilson, Scribes and Scholars, 3rd ed. (1991) 145-46, 235, 263.  Notaker, Printed Cookbooks in Europe 1470-1700 (2010) no. 1002.1

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The Oldest Western Medical Document after the Hippocratic Writings, and How it Survived the Middle Ages Circa 850

De medicina remains the oldest medical document written after the Hippocratic writings, the earliest surviving major medical treatise written in Latin, and the earliest Western history of medicine. It is the only extant work of Roman encyclopedist and presumed physician Aulus Cornelius Celsus, who lived from c. 25 BCE to c. 50 CE, probably in Gallia Narbonensis, a Roman province located in what is now Languedoc and Provence, in southern France, also known as Gallia Transalpina (Transalpine Gaul).

Celsus's De medicina remains the most important source of our knowledge of medicine in the Roman empire. It was originally part of a larger encyclopedic work by Celsus covering agriculture, military science, rhetoric, government, law, philosophy and medicine, but only the eight books on medicine survived intact. The text of De medicina was lost sometime during the Middle Ages and rediscovered during 1426-27.

The earliest extant manuscripts of De medicina are :

(1) F, Codex Florent., Laurentian Library, 73, 1. IX century and in parts defective.

(2) V, Codex Romanus, Vatican Library, 5951. IX century and in parts defective.

(3) P, Codex Parisinus, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 7928. X century; copied from V when this was less defective.

(4) J, Codex Florent., Laurentian 73, 7, copied by Niccolò de Niccoli from a very old codex now no longer extant. XV century.

“(P) was written by ‘sacer Johannes’, probably Johannes Philagathus (abbot of Nonantola from 982, later bishop of Piacenza, and in 997-8 Antipope John XVI), who taught Gerbert’s master Otto III; and Florence, Laur. 73.1 (f, s.IX) proclaims itself ‘liber monasterii Sanct Ambrosii Mediolanensis, where Simon [Cordo] of Genoa [physician to Pope Nicholas IV] could have seen it. P, which in s.XV belonged to St. Hilary Poitiers, was copied from the other medieval manuscript, Vatican lat. 5951 (V, s. IX, northern Italy), before it lost a gathering and the last leaf. 

“F came to light in 1427, and V too was copied in s.XV; but most of the fifteenth-century manuscripts, which number more than twenty, owe the staple of their text to a lost manuscript (S) first heard of at Siena in 1426, when Panormita described its appearance as ‘prae vetustate venerabilis’. S had leaves missing when Niccoli copied from it, before the end of 1427, Florence, Laur. 73.7 (J); in 1431 he filled from F as many of the gaps as he could” (Reynolds, Texts and Transmission [1983] 16-17).

De Medicina was first published in print by Nicolaus Laurentii, Alamanus, of Florence in 1478. The text was edited for the press by Bartolomeo Fonzio from Florence, Laurentian 73.4, which his brother Niccolò wrote, and which Bartholomeo Fonzio corrected from F. (ISTC No. ic00364000.) In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the first printed edition was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

While there has been much debate as to whether Celsus was truly a “physician” (a term that in ancient times referred to someone who practiced medicine for money), it is clear from the text of De medicina that he had considerable first-hand medical expertise.

“From his writing we may conclude that his professional skills were excellent and that his knowledge of medicine was exhaustive. He was also endowed with superior literary skills. . . . His contributions to medicine are major: he wrote the first major medical treatise in Latin; he created, almost single-handedly, scientific Latin; and he wrote the first systematic review of all that was known in medicine up to his time” (Prioreschi, A History of Medicine III, 210-11).

Book I of De medicina contains a historical overview of medicine; Book II deals with the course and general treatment of diseases; Books III and IV with special therapy; Books V and VI with pharmacology (drugs and medication); Book VII with surgery; and Book VIII with bone diseases. Celsus is credited with recording the cardinal signs of inflammation: calor (warmth), dolor (pain), tumor (swelling) and rubor (redness and hyperaemia). He goes into great detail regarding the preparation of numerous ancient medicinal remedies including the preparation of opioids. In addition, he describes many first-century Roman surgical procedures which included removal of a cataract, treatment for bladder stones, and the setting of fractures.

In compiling De medicina Celsus drew heavily upon the Hippocratic corpus, referencing some 80 Greek medical writers, some of whom are now known only from Celsus’s work. He translated Greek medical terms into Latin, and many of these Latin terms have remained standard in medicine to the present day. Included among these terms is the word “cancer” (Latin for the Greek karkinos [crab]), which Celsus used to describe various types of non-malignant ulceration such as erysipelas and gangrene. In discussing malignant disease Celsus used the words carcinoma and carcinode, terms derived directly from the Greek.

When De medicina was translated into English by James Grieve in 1756 it became the first of the major medical treatises from the ancient world to appear in English.

Prioreschi, A History of Medicine III, 182-211. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 424.

(This entry was last revised on 04-30-2014.)

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1000 – 1100

The First Conclusive Proof that Norsemen Reached North America Circa 1000

The reconstructions of three Norse buildings are the focal point of this archaeological site, the earliest known European settlement in the New World. The archaeological remains at the site were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Examples of objects found at L'Anse aux Meadow.

Timeline of occupation of L'Anse aux Meadows.

In 1960 Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine, discovered the remains of a Norse village in at L'Anse aux Meadows on the northernmost tip of Newfoundland in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. This was the first conclusive proof that Greenlandic Norsemen had found a way across the Atlantic Ocean to North America, roughly 500 years before Christopher Columbus and John Cabot.

"Archaeologists determined the site is of Norse origin because of definitive similarities between the characteristics of structures and artifacts found at the site compared to sites in Greenland and Iceland from around CE 1000.

"Helge Ingstad and Anne Stine Ingstad carried out seven archaeological excavations from 1961 to 1968, investigating eight complete house sites as well as the remains of a ninth.

"The L'Anse aux Meadows area was originally inhabited by Native peoples as far back as 6000BP. The area was probably sought due to its abundance of marine life and close proximity to Labrador. The most prominent of early Native inhabitants were the Dorset Eskimo; however, during the centuries of Norse exploration of the area there were thought to be no inhabitants in the immediate area" (Wikipedia article on L'Anse aux Meadows, accessed 10-24-2012).

"L'Anse aux Meadows remains the only widely accepted instance of pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact and is notable for its possible connection with the attempted colony of Vinland established by Leif Ericson around the same time period or, more broadly, with Norse exploration of the Americas. . . .The settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows has been dated to approximately 1,000 years ago, an assessment that tallies with the relative dating of artifact and structure types.The remains of eight buildings were located. They are believed to have been constructed of sod placed over a wooden frame. Based on associated artifacts, the buildings were variously identified as dwellings or workshops. The largest dwelling measured 28.8 by 15.6 m (94.5 by 51 ft) and consisted of several rooms. Workshops were identified as an iron smithy containing a forge and iron slag, a carpentry workshop, which generated wood debris, and a specialized boat repair area containing worn rivets. Besides those related to iron working, carpentry, and boat repair, other artifacts found at the site consisted of common everyday Norse items, including a stone oil lamp, a whetstone, a bronze fastening pin, a bone knitting needle, and part of a spindle. The presence of the spindle and needle suggests that women were present as well as men. Food remains included butternuts, which are significant because they do not grow naturally north of New Brunswick, and their presence probably indicates the Norse inhabitants travelled farther south to obtain them.Archaeologists concluded that the site was inhabited by the Norse for a relatively short period of time.  

"Norse sagas are written versions of older oral traditions. Two Icelandic sagas, commonly called the Saga of the Greenlanders and the Saga of Eric the Red, describe the experiences of Norse Greenlanders who discovered and attempted to settle land to the west of Greenland, identified by them as Vinland. The sagas suggest that the Vinland settlement failed because of conflicts within the Norse community, as well as between the Norse and the native people they encountered, whom they called Skrælingar.

"Recent archaeological studies suggest that the L'Anse aux Meadows site is not Vinland itself but was within a land called Vinland that spread farther south from L'Anse aux Meadows, extending to the St. Lawrence River and New Brunswick. The village at L'Anse aux Meadows served as an exploration base and winter camp for expeditions heading southward into the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The settlements of Vinland mentioned in the Eric saga and the Greenlanders saga, Leifsbudir (Leif Ericson) and Hóp (Norse Greenlanders), have both been identified as the L'Anse aux Meadows site (Wikipedia article on Helge Ingstad, accessed 10-24-2012).

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1300 – 1400

Agriculture, Animal Husbandry, and Horticulture Circa 1304 – 1309

Folio 11 of MS M.232, the Morgan Library's 1470 Belgian manuscript of Ruralia Commoda. (View Larger)

Between 1304 and 1309 Bolognese jurist Pietro Crescenzi (Petrus de Crescentius, Petrus de Crescentiis) wrote Ruralia commoda. Derived in part from the writings of Romans ColumellaCato the Elder, and Varro, this was one of the most widely read medieval works on agriculture, animal husbandry, and horticulture, and it continued to be widely read throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, resulting in numerous printed editions, many illustrated. The text was divided into twelve sections:

1. The best location and arrangement of a manor, villa or farm

2. The botanical background needed to raise different crops

3.  Building a granary and cultivation of cereal, forage and food

4. On vines and wine-making

5 & 6.  Arboriculture and horticulture, including 185 plants useful for medicine and nourishment

7.  Meadows and woods

8.  Gardens

9.  Animal husbandry and bee-keeping

10. Hawking and hunting

11. General summary of the book

12. Calendar of duties and tasks, month by month

Ruralia commoda was first printed in an unillustrated edition in Augsburg by Johann Schüssler in 1471. In February 2014 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.  ISTC no. ic00965000. Thirteen editions were printed in the 15th century: six in Latin, three in Italian and two each in French and German. Various were illustrated with woodcuts.

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One of the Oldest Known Manuscripts on Cookery in English, Written in the Form of a Scroll Circa 1390

A recipe for pork in a sage sauce, from The Forme of Cury. (View Larger)

The Forme of Cury, a vellum scroll thought to have been written by the master-cooks of Richard II, and one of the oldest known manuscripts on cookery in the English Language, contains 196 recipes. The word 'cury' is the Middle English word for 'cookery'. The scroll was first published by the vicar and antiquary Samuel Pegge in 1780 as The Forme of Cury, a Roll of Ancient English Cookery, Compiled, about A.D. 1390, by the Master-Cooks of King Richard II, Presented Afterward to Queen Elizabeth by Edward Lord Stafford, and Now in the Possession of Gustavus Brander, Esq. Illustrated with Notes, and a Copious Index or Glossary.  The manuscript scroll is preserved in the British Library.

"The preamble to the manuscript explains that the work has been given the 'assent and avysement of Maisters and phisik and of philosophie at dwelled in his court.' ('approval and consent of the masters of medicine and of philosophy that dwelt in his (Richard II's) court.') This proud acknowledgement illustrates the ancient link between medicine and the culinary arts.

"The author states that the recipes are intended to teach a cook to make everyday dishes ('Common pottages and common meats for the household, as they should be made, craftily and wholesomely'), as well as unusually spiced and spectacular dishes for banquets ('curious potages and meetes and sotiltees for alle maner of States bothe hye and lowe.') The word 'sotiltee' (or subtlety) refers to the elaborate sculptures that often adorned the tables at grand feasts. These displays, usually made of sugar, paste, jelly or wax, depicted magnificent objects: armed ships, buildings with vanes and towers, eagles. They were also known as 'warners,' as they were served at the beginning of a banquet to 'warn' (or notify) the guests of the approaching dinner.

Folios 57v-58r, MS 7 of the John Rylands Library: a copy of The Forme of Cury in codex form. (View Larger)

"The Forme of Cury is the first English text to mention olive oil, cloves, mace and gourds in relation to British food. Most of the recipes contain what were then luxurious and valuable spices: caraway, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and pepper. There are also recipes for cooking strange and exotic animals, such as whales, cranes, curlews, herons, seals and porpoises" (http://www.bl.uk/learning/langlit/booksforcooks/med/pygghome/sawge.html, accessed 06-06-2009).

♦On December 2, 2009 the MailOnline reported that another manuscript of The Forme of Cury from apparently about the same time, but in codex form, was discovered in the John Rylands Library at Manchester University. The article describes the efforts at Manchester to prepare some of the recipes in that manuscript and how some of the dishes looked and tasted after they were prepared.

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1450 – 1500

Günther Zainer Issues "Vocabularius", the First Technical Dictionary 1473 – 1474

In 1473 or 1474 printer Günther Zainer of Augsburg, Germany, issued Vocabularius, with text in both Latin and German. Vocabularius rerum was the first technical dictionary, and after the Vocabularius ex quo (1467), the first bi-lingual dictionary, of which one copy, printed in Eltville, Germany, is recorded (ISTC no. iv00361700).  The work was "devoted entirely to technical terms, each with its own section, of medicine (four sections), culinary and medicinal herbs and food plants, zoology, mining and mineralogy, navigation, architecture, textiles, tanning and leather work, musical instruments, books and book production, cooking and kitchen utensils, baking, wine and viticulture, gambling, carpentry, horses and carriages, etc.

"Some of the words are highly technical, lexicographical rarities. In the section on scribes and book production we find definitions not only of the traditional scribal tools (calamus, stilus, graphius, pugillaris, etc.), but also of such specialist words as antipira (= the scribe's eye-shade, for protection against the fire or candle-light), corrosorium (= the mill or grinder to reduce chalk to a powder for the preparation of vellum), and epicausterium (= the table-cloth on which the parchment is laid for ease of writing). None of these last words occurs, for example, in Karen Gould's "Terms for Book Production in a Fifteenth-Century Latin-English Nominale", The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 79 (1985), pp. 75-99. There is also an entry on the distinction between the words liber, volumen, and codex; likewise between exemplar and exemplum.' (Nicholas Poole-Wilson). . . ." (W. P. Watson Antiquarian Books, online description, accessed 08-09-2009).

"Possessed of a knowledge of names rather than of things, the mediaeval student had one urgent need - a dictionary. New words began to pour in—in Arabic, Syriac, Hebrew, and Greek—whose meanings he sought to know; and, for the medical student, there were new drugs, the composition and uses of which were essential to his practice. It is not surprising then to find books of the dictionary class among the first to be printed. . . . The Vocabularius . . . has four sections devoted to medicine: (1) De homine et de diversis membris, in which the parts of the body are defined in order, with the German equivalents; brief references to authors are given. (2) De nominibus balneatorum etc., containing all the terms relating to bathing, bleeding, and cupping. (3) De medicis et eorum que pertinent ad medicine artes. The definitions here are most interesting... Siringa is described as a metallic instrument with which a surgeon injects resolving medicines into the Virile member in order to dissolve calculi in the bladder. (4) De nominibus quorundam egritudinum, contains seven and a half folios of definitions of diseases." (Osler, Incunabula medica).

ISTC no. iv00322000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link.

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The First Printed Cookbook: Platina's "De honesta voluptate" Circa 1475 – 1479

The first two editions of De honesta voluptate et valetudine by Italian humanist and papal librarian Bartholomeo Platina (Sacchi) appeared at roughly the same time. One was issued in Venice by Laurentius de Aquila and Sibylinus Umber on June 13, 1475. (ISTC No.: ip00762000). Another edition, which is sometimes called the first, might be slightly earlier or later. Neither the place, nor the printer, nor the date of printing is identified on that edition, but the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue No.: ip00761000 assigns the work to Ultrich Han of Rome between the years 1475 and 1479. 

Platina credited the origin of most of the recipes in this work to the professional chef Maestro Martino of Como.

Notaker, Printed Cookbooks in Europe 1470-1700 (2010) nos. 1001.1 & 1001.2 states that the earliest surviving manuscript of the work is thought to have been written about 1468, but is not in Platina's hand.

In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the June 13, 1475 edition was available from the Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek at this link.

(This entry was last revised on 02-22-2015.)

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Arnald of Villanova's "Von Bewahrung und Bereitung der Weine", the First Printed Book on Wine October 1478

The first printed book on wine, Von Bewahrung und Bereitung der Weine, by Catalan physician Arnald of Villanova, was translated from the Latin by Wilhelm von Hirnkofen, and published in Esslingen, Germany by Konrad Fyner in October 1478. It discussed the value of wine in diet and as a medication.

In 1943 medical historian Henry Sigerist issued a facsimile of the first edition, with an English translation and introduction, entitled The Earliest Printed Book on Wine.

♦ In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the first printed edition was available at the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München at this link

ISTC no. ia01080000. 

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Isaac Judaeus' "De particularibus diaetis", the First Separately Printed Treatise on Diet March 23, 1487

The first separately printed treatise on diet, De particularibus diaetis, was written by the Egyptian-Jewish physician and philosopher Isaac Judaeus who lived from about 832 to 932 CE. He was also known as Isaac Israeli ben Solomon and Abu Ya'qub Ishaq Sulayman al-Israili. The Latin edition was a translation made from the Arabic, circa 1070, by Constantine the African (Constantinus Africanus,) and first printed in Padua by Matthaeus Cerdonis.

De particularibus diaetis was a portion of " 'Kitab al-Adwiyah al-Mufradah wa'l-Aghdhiyah,' a work in four sections on remedies and aliments. The first section, consisting of twenty chapters, was translated into Latin by Constantine [the African] under the title 'Diætæ Universales,' and into Hebrew by an anonymous translator under the title 'Ṭib'e ha-Mezonot.' The other three parts of the work are entitled in the Latin translation 'Diætæ Particulares'; and it seems that a Hebrew translation, entitled 'Sefer ha-Mis'adim' or 'Sefer ha-Ma'akalim,' was made from the Latin" (Wikipedia article on Isaac Israeli ben Solomon, accessed 06-08-2009).

A more complete printed edition of the text appeared in Basel in 1570.

J. Norman (ed.) Morton's Medical Bibliography, 5th ed. (1991) no. 1961. Campbell, Arabic Medicine and its Influence on the Middle Ages I (1926) 73.

ISTC no. ii00176000. In November 2013 a digital facsimile was available from Regensburger Reichsstädtische Bibliothek Online (RRBO) at this link.

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1500 – 1550

Richard Pyson Issues the First English Cookbook, Known from a Single Surviving Copy 1500

A recipe for Custarde taken from the Boke of Kokery, c. 1440.

In 1500 printer Richard Pyson, a native of France and eventually a naturalized Englishman, issued from "without" Temple Bar, London, a book entitled This is the boke of Cokery. The earliest cookbook printed in the English language, the work is known from a single surviving copy in the library of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat, Warminster, Wiltshire, England.

"In his Boke of Cokery, Pynson not only gave his readers a variety of recipes to choose from, heading this section 'The Calender of Cokery,' but set out details of as many historical royal feasts as he could muster. Whether he carried out the necessary research himself, or, as seems more likely, used the services of some unknown expert in such affairs, remains a mystery, but he undoubtedly made good use of an early manuscript of recipes now at Holkham Hall, Norfolk. Due to his efforts we known that 'The Feast of King Harry the Fourth to the Spenawdes and Frenchmen when they had jousted in Smythe Felde,' was composed of three courses of exotic game and meats, a typical list reading:

'Creme of Almondes; larks, stewed potage; venyson, partryche rost; quayle, egryt; rabettes, plovers, pomerynges; and a leache of brauwne wyth batters' "

(Quayle, Old Cook Books. An Illustrated History [1978] 24-25).

♦ The website of the British Library describes a manuscript written around 1440 entitled A Boke of Kokery, (accessed 06-07-2009).

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Wynkyn de Worde Issues the First English Book on Preparing and Carving Meat, Game and Fish 1508

In 1508, from his shop in Fleet Street, London, printer and publisher Wynkyn de Worde issued The Boke of Kervynge. This was the first book in English on carving and preparing different types of meat, game and fish. Of the first edition only a single copy survived, at the University Library Cambridge. Similarly only a single copy survived of the second edition dated 1513. It is preserved in the British Library.

Quayle, Old Cook Books. An Illustrated History (1978) 27-28.

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Andrew Boorde Issues the First Printed Book to Set Out Rules for a Healthy Diet 1542

In 1542 English physician, traveller, and writer, Andrew Boorde, published in London at the press of Robert Wyer Hereafter foloweth a compendyous regyment or a dyetary of helth: made in Mou[n]tpyllier, compyled by Andrew Boorde of physiycke doctour, dedycated to the armypotent prynce, and valyaunt Lorde Thomas Duke of Northfolche. This was the first printed book to set out rules for a healthy diet, for those who could afford to follow such a regimen.

Formerly a Carthusian monk, but by this time known as "Merry Andrew" to his friends, Boorde was "making an enviable living as a physician and purveyer of health foods in Fleet Street, London; although he had more than once been accused on scandalous behavior and loose living. He is alleged to have attributed his extreme virility and undoubted success with the ladies to a balanced diet in which oysters and figs played a prominent part. . . .

"His Dyetary of helth passed through at least four editions before the end of the sixteenth century, much of its popularity stemming from the many ingenious dietary methods he revealed by which male virility could be improved and erections prolonged. The common artichoke was his favorite recommended aphrodisiac, and must have led to a considerable run on this scarce vegetable for several seasons. Mixed with rocket seed, the effect was alleged to be dramatic. 'Eat them at dyner,' he advised his readers, 'they doth increase nature, and provoke a man to veneryous actes.'

"Unfortunately, there were an unlucky few on which this sovereign remedy for keeping one's end up did not immediately work, and Boorde devoted a whole chapter to those he designated with a compassionate eye as melancholy men,' For them the diet was strict:

'Melancholy is colde and drye; wherefore melancholy men must refrayne from fryde meate, and meate whych is ower salte. And from meate this sowre and harde of dygestyon, and from all meate whych is burnt and drye. They must abstayn from immoderate thurste, and from drynking of hot wines and grosse wine, as red wyne. And use these thyngs; cowe mylke, almond mylke, yokes of rere eggs. Boyled meate is better for melancholy men that rosted meates whych do engender good blode, and meates that whyche be temperately hote, be goode for melancholy men. And so be all herbes whyche be hotte and moyste. These thyngs followyng do purge melancoly; quycke-beam, senna sticados, harts-tongue, mayden-hair borage, oraganum [majoram] suger and whyte wyne.'

"Once having thoroughly purged melancholy, a generous helping of rocket seed and artichoke would have its usual dramatic and uplifting effect, with the one-time enforced celebate made 'merrry wyth much venery.' This was Dr. Boorde's specific for nearly all masculine ills, and one he seems to have constantly restorted to himself, to an extent that caused so much scandal in his home town of Winchester that the 'three loose women' he kept in his rooms there were 'openly punished in the greate churche and stretes of that city.'

"His Breviary of Healthe appeared in 1547; but within a month or two of its appearance Boorde was arrested and thrown unceremoniously into the Fleet Prison on charge of permitted 'boggery' in Winchester, together with an assorted array of sexual malpractices that would make headline news in the Sunday newspapers even today. Merry Andrew indignantly denied the charges, but there was no escape. He resigned himself to death and made his will on April 1, 1549. He died in Fleet soon after, probably of the 'syckness of the Prysons,' so at least he cheated the executioner. As Merry Andrew, his effigy was erected as an Aunt Sally or cock-shy by fairground stallholders for several centuries after his death, the name giving a new phrase to the English language" (Quayle, Old Cookery Books. An Illustrated History [1978] 29-31).

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1650 – 1700

La Varenne Writes the Founding Text of Modern French Cuisine 1651

The title page of Le Cuisinier Francois, by Francois Pierre de La Varenne, 1680.

An engraved portrait of Nicolas Chalon du Ble, marquis d'Uxelles.

François Pierre de la Varenne, chef de cuisine to Nicolas Chalon du Blé, marquis d'Uxelles, published in Paris Le cuisinier françois, the founding text of modern French cuisine. Le cuisinier françois played a major role in moving French gastronomy away from the heavily spiced cuisine of the Middle Ages toward recipes that expressed the natural flavors of foods.

"Exotic spices (saffron, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, nigella, seeds of paradise) were, with the exception of pepper, replaced by local herbs (parsley, thyme, bayleaf, chervil, sage, tarragon). New vegetables like cauliflower, asparagus, peas, cucumber and artichoke were introduced. Special care was given to the cooking of meat in order to conserve maximum flavour. Vegetables had to be fresh and tender. Fish, with the improvement of transportation, had to be impeccably fresh. Preparation had to respect the gustatory and visual integrity of the ingredients instead of masking them as had been the practice previously.

"La Varenne's work was the first to set down in writing the considerable culinary innovations achieved in France in the seventeenth century, while codifying food preparation in a systematic manner, according to rules and principals. He introduced the first bisque and Béchamel sauce. He replaced crumbled bread with roux as the base for sauces, and lard with butter. Here one finds the first usage of the terms bouquet garni, fonds de cuisine (stocks) and reductions, and the use of egg-whites for clarification. It also contains the earliest recipe in print for mille-feuille. The cooking of vegetables is addressed, an unusual departure. In a fragrant sauce for asparagus there is evidence of an early form of hollandaise sauce:

"make a sauce with good fresh butter, a little vinegar, salt, and nutmeg, and an egg yolk to bind the sauce; take care that it doesn't curdle..." 

"La Varenne preceded his book with a text on confitures—jams, jellies and preserves— that included recipes for syrups, compotes and a great variety of fruit drinks, as well as a section on salads (1650).

"La Varenne followed his groundbreaking work with a third book, Le Pâtissier françois (Paris 1653), which is generally credited with being the first comprehensive French work on pastry-making. In 1662 appeared the first of the combined editions that presented all three works together. All the early editions of La Varenne's works—Le Cuisinier françois ran through some thirty editions in seventy-five years—are extremely rare; like children's books, they too were worn to pieces, in the kitchen, and simply used up."

"The English translation, The French Cook (London 1653) was the first French cookbook translated into English. It introduced professional terms like à la mode, au bleu (very rare), and au naturel which are now standard culinary expressions. Its success can be gauged from the fact that over 250,000 copies were printed in about 250 editions and it remained in print until 1815" (Wikipedia article on François Pierre La Varenne, accessed 06-07-2009).

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1700 – 1750

Hannah Glasse's "The art of Cookery", Probably the Most-Widely Read English Cookery Book of the 18th Century 1747

In 1747 English writer on cookery, Hannah Glasse published The Art of Cookery. This work became one of the most widely read cookbooks in England and America for about 100 years.

"Hannah wrote mostly for domestic servants (the "lower sort", as she referred to them), writing in a conversational style familiar to anyone who has learned a recipe at the elbow of a parent or grandparent. The food is surprisingly recognizable, with staples such as Yorkshire pudding and gooseberry fool still known and eaten today, and there are even early traces of the Indian food that eventually became naturalized in the UK. She showed marked disapproval of French cooking styles and in general avoided French culinary terminology" (Wikipedia article on The Art of Cookery, accessed 06-07-2009).

"By the time Hannah Glasse published her first cookery book in 1747 the urban middle classes were almost universally literate and had cash to burn. They were also acutely aware that fortunes were easier to earn than respectability and social status. Prosperous merchants, lawyers, shopkeepers and tradesmen were desperate in the mid-18th Century to show off their new wealth and to establish themselves within society. Hannah Glasse gave them the ticket to social respectability by providing middle class women with a no-nonsense cookery books that gave them the ticket out of the kitchen and into a life of leisure. Even if the women of London’s burgeoning mercantile class could not quite replicate the life of leisure led by the gentry and nobility, they were now about to eat in the style of those much higher up the social scale. Hannah was providing a guide to life.

"Between 1700 and 1789 over 500,000 copies of some 300 cookery books were published. The vogue for complicated books published by men was completely overtaken by the simple approach pioneered by Glasse and many female contemporaries. The success of the Art of Cookery is testament not only to the aspirational desires of the middle classes and the increased purchasing power of women, but also to the fact that a much wider spectrum of British society was beginning to enjoy eating. Discarding the extravagance and pomp of court food and French culinary techniques saw British cooking get back to basics – good ingredients, simple techniques, and quality dining available for all" (Wikipedia article on Hannah Glass, accessed 06-07-2009).

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1750 – 1800

Amerlia Simmons Writes the First American Cookbook Written by an American 1796

Amelia Simmons, characterizing herself on the title page as “An American Orphan,” published in Hartford, Connecticut, American Cooke, or the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Pastes, Puffs, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and All Kinds of Cakes, from the Imperial Plumb to Plain Cake, Adapted to this Country, and All Grades of Life.

This was the first cookbook written by an American published in the United States. “Numerous recipes that adapt traditional dishes by substituting native American ingredients such as corn meal and squash are printed here for the first time, including 'Indian Slapjack,' 'Johny Cake,' and 'Squash Pudding.' Simmons's 'Pompkin Pudding,' baked in a crust, is the basis for the classic American pumpkin pie. Although this popular work was published in many editions, only four copies of the original edition are known to have survived” (American Treasures of the Library of Congress, accessed 12-29-2008).

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Malthus on Population 1798

In 1798 economist and demographer Thomas Malthus published in London An Essay on the Principle of Population, as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society. In this rebuttal of the utopian views of William Godwin, Malthus reasoned that populations inscrease by geometrical proportion but food supply only increases arithmetically. He argued that if both food and "the passion between the sexes" are necessary to man's existence, but populations have a much greater tendency to increase than does the food supply, then a "strong and constantly operating check"—such as famine, disease, or sexual deprivation—must be imposed to keep the population level consistent with the level of subsistence. 

Malthus's suppositions, though reasonable, were largely intuitive. Though the Essay contained no supporting numerical data, it was extremely influential on passage of the Census Act or Population Act of 1800, which led in 1801 to the first Census of England, Scotland and Wales. Using some of the information gathered in the first census, Malthus supplied factual documentation to support his theories in the greatly expanded second edition of his Essay published in 1803.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 1431.

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1800 – 1850

Nicholas Appert Issues the First Book on Modern Food Preservation Methods 1810

In 1810 confectioner Nicholas Appert published in Paris L'art de conserver, pendant plsieurs années, toutes les substances animales et végétales.... In this small book Appert described the first workable process for canning foods, laying the foundation of the food-processing industry. Appert's method, which he began working on in 1795, involved heating food and sealing it hermetically in specially made glass jars. By providing the first reliable way to preserve many types of prepared foods for extended periods of time, Appert also developed a new way of furnishing potable, nourishing and unspoiled food to armies in the field. 

In 1800 Napoleon, who is widely quoted, accurately or not, as saying, "An army marches on its stomach," offered an award of 12,000 francs to anyone who could devise a practical method for food preservation for armies on the march. The award went to Appert, but since the method was considered to be of strategic importance for Napoleon's military campaigns, Appert was not allowed to publish it until 1810.

Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 59.

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1850 – 1875

"Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management": One of the Major Publishing Successes of the 19th Century 1859 – 1861

In 1859 Isabella Mary Beeton began serial publication, through her husband's publishing company, Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management Comprising information for the Mistress, Housekeeper, Cook, Kitchen-Maid, Butler, Footman, Coachman, Valet, Upper and Under House-Maids, Lady’s-Maid, Maid-of-all-Work, Laundry-Maid, Nurse and Nurse-Maid, Monthly Wet and Sick Nurses, etc. etc.—also Sanitary, Medical, & Legal Memoranda: with a History of the Origin, Properties, and Uses of all Things Connected with Home Life and Comfort.

Intended as a guide of reliable information about every aspect of running a house for the aspirant middle classes, its 2,751 entries on 1,112 pages included in addition to 900 recipes and a wealth of cooking advice, tips on how to deal with servants' pay and children's health. Many of the recipes were illustrated with colored engravings. Her book also one of the first cookbooks to show recipes in the modern format with all the ingredients listed at the start, a format that Mrs. Beeton borrowed from Eliza Acton's Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845), along with some of the recipes. However, the Beetons never claimed that the book's contents were original. and Mrs. Beeton may perhaps be designated more accurately as its compiler and editor, rather than its author, as many passages were not in her own words.

The work first appeared in a series of 24 monthly parts issued as supplements to the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine published by Samuel Orchard Beeton. Previously portions of the text had appeared as columns on such topics as "Cooking, Pickling and Preserving,"  "The Management of Children," etc. in the Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine, to which Isabella began contributing after her marriage to Samuel Beeton in 1856. The edition in book form was "one of the major publishing success stories of the nineteenth century, selling over 60,000 copies in its first year of publication in 1861, and nearly two million by 1868" (Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management. Abridged Edition, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Nicola Humble [2000] viii).

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1920 – 1930

Animal Ecology 1927

In 1927 English biologist and animal ecologist Charles Sutherland Elton published Animal Ecology in London at the press of Sidgwick & Jackson. It appeared as part of a series of textbooks in animal biology edited by Julian Huxley, who contributed a very informative introduction. In this book Elton integrated the concepts of food chains, pyramids of numbers, and the "niche" into a useful framework for ecology.

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1950 – 1960

First Stored-Program Computer to Run Business Programs on a Routine Basis November 17, 1951

On November 17, 1951 LEO I (Lyons Electronic Office) ran a program to "evaluate costs, prices and margins of that week's baked output" at tea shop operator J. Lyons and Company in England. The LEO adaptation of the EDSAC was the first stored-program electronic computer to run business programs on a routine basis. “LEO’s early success owed less to its hardware than to its highly innovative systems-oriented approach to programming, devised and led by David Caminer.”

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2000 – 2005

Printing on Cakes Made Possible November 20, 2001

An image associated with U.S. Patent 6,319,530 depicting what could be printed onto a birthday cake using an inject printer and edible ink.

On November 20, 2001 Douglas R. Stewart of Fort Gratiot, Michigan received U.S. Patent 6,319,530 for a "Method of photocopying an image onto an edible web for decorating iced baked goods."

This invention enabled printing a food-grade color photograph on the surface of a birthday cake, or other iced baked goods, using a dedicated inkjet printer and edible inks. 

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2012 – 2016

PBS Digital Studios: Will 3D Printing Change the World? February 28, 2013

Much attention has been paid to 3D Printing lately, with new companies developing cheaper and more efficient consumer models that have wowed the tech community. They herald 3D Printing as a revolutionary and disruptive technology, but how will these printers truly affect our society? Beyond an initial novelty, 3D Printing could have a game-changing impact on consumer culture, copyright and patent law, and even the very concept of scarcity on which our economy is based. From at-home repairs to new businesses, from medical to ecological developments, 3D Printing has an undeniably wide range of possibilities which could profoundly change our world.

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Using Data-Mining of Location-Based Food and Drink Habits to Identify Cultural Boundaries April 2014

In April 2014 Thiago H Silva and colleagues, mainly from the Department of Computer Science, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Belo Horizonte, MG, Brazil, reported results of data-mining food and drink habits from the location-based social media site, Foursquare.
Prior to the application of data-mining to the problem, the World Values Survey, a global network of social scientists studying values and their impact on social and political life, conducted over 250,000 interviews in 87 societies between 1981 and 2008. Between 2010 and 2014 the World Values survey conducted 80,000 interviews. However, that traditional approach was very time-consuming and and expensive. 

Thiago H Silva, Pedro O S Vaz de Melo, Jussara Almeida, Mirco Musolesi, Antonio Loureiro, "You are What you Eat (and Drink): Identifying Cultural Boundaries by Analyzing Food & Drink Habits in Foursquare," http://arxiv.org/abs/1404.1009.
"Food and drink are two of the most basic needs of human beings. However, as society evolved, food and drink became also a strong cultural aspect, being able to describe strong differences among people. Traditional methods used to analyze cross-cultural differences are mainly based on surveys and, for this reason, they are very difficult to represent a significant statistical sample at a global scale. In this paper, we propose a new methodology to identify cultural boundaries and similarities across populations at different scales based on the analysis of Foursquare check-ins. This approach might be useful not only for economic purposes, but also to support existing and novel marketing and social applications. Our methodology consists of the following steps. First, we map food and drink related check-ins extracted from Foursquare into users' cultural preferences. Second, we identify particular individual preferences, such as the taste for a certain type of food or drink, e.g., pizza or sake, as well as temporal habits, such as the time and day of the week when an individual goes to a restaurant or a bar. Third, we show how to analyze this information to assess the cultural distance between two countries, cities or even areas of a city. Fourth, we apply a simple clustering technique, using this cultural distance measure, to draw cultural boundaries across countries, cities and regions."
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