Aberdeen diet traced back nearly 1,000 years by scientists

The diet of Aberdonians over the centuries is to be showcased in a 'Hungry Histories' project by researchers at the city's universities.

The diet of Aberdonians over the past 1,000 years will be revealed by new research. Picture: contributed
The diet of Aberdonians over the past 1,000 years will be revealed by new research. Picture: contributed

It will bring together analysis of bones dating from Neolithic and Pictish times, medieval skeletons excavated across the north-east and the most complete set of burgh records in Scotland, recognised by Unesco for their historical 

The initiative, which includes a host of public events, will be led by Dr Kate Britton, a senior lecturer in the department of archaeology and the university’s public engagement and research team.

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Dr Britton who has also been examining the growth of North Sea fishing and the commodities trade during the Medieval period transformed the city socially and economically, said: “Recent archaeological excavations, such as those at St Nicholas Kirk, Aberdeen Art Gallery and the council offices at Marischal College have yielded preserved archaeological biological material – including many human skeletons – dating back across almost ten centuries.

“This is an unparalleled opportunity to investigate changes in health, diet and even immigration in Aberdeen over the last thousand years.

“An interesting observation came from analysis from 500-year-old bones from Franciscan friars which showed they ate a lot of fish, which was related to times of fasting when they ate nothing with teeth or legs.”

Data is obtained by removing a small piece of bone from a skeleton’s rib which undergoes a process leaving collagen which is then filtered and freeze-dried. Mass spectrometry reveals different ratios between isotopes, reflecting signs of different food.

There will be six talks in the city during August and September giving the public a chance to discuss the research with Dr Britton and Dr Chris Colley from the university’s public engagement team.