Serving pot from Ribble Estuary (c)MOLA

April Fools: Remains of an early stew discovered by archaeologists

MOLA team

As some of you have guessed, this was in fact an ‪April Fools‬. Yes, although we do often find preserved organic remains on our digs, we have yet to come across the ingredients for a Lancashire Hot Pot.

Our archaeologists have discovered fragments of a rare medieval serving pot. The artefact, found during initial excavation of a site in the Ribble Valley, contains the remains of an early form of stew. The team were conducting a small-scale excavation at the site when they uncovered a near complete pot buried in the mud.

Once retrieved from the site, it was brought back to MOLA to be cleaned and analysed.

Senior Field Archaeologist, Stewart Lamb, said, ‘Although this type of ceramic vessel, known as Hawt pot, is quite common to Lancashire in the late medieval period, this example is really special because we’ve found traces of its contents, which enable us to reconstruct a medieval meal.’

Thanks to the anaerobic environment the pot was found in, preservation of the organic remains is extremely high. Analysis of the contents of the vessel indicate it once contained a mixture of foodstuffs common to the area, including lamb, onions, carrots and a type of Old World potato predating the arrival of the Southern American variety eaten today.

MOLA Environmental Archaeologist, Pat Tate, said ‘The levels of preservation here are incredible. The waterlogged conditions mean we’ve been able to identify things like tamarind, sugar and salt remnants and one item that looks like an anchovy. Cross referencing with written records, it looks similar to a sauce originating in the West Midlands county of Worcestershire.’

Recipes with similar ingredients have appeared in written records before this discovery but this is the earliest physical evidence currently known. The recipe included layering Old World potatoes, or in some cases sliced turnips, over stews of lamb or mutton.

Keep an eye out for more details on the MOLA blog, or on our Facebook and Twitter feeds.

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