Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Archaeologists reconstruct diet of Nelson's navy with new chemical analysis of excavated bones

Date:
March 23, 2012
Source:
Wiley-Blackwell
Summary:
Salt beef, sea biscuits and the occasional weevil; the food endured by sailors during the Napoleonic wars is seldom imagined to be appealing. Now a new chemical analysis technique has allowed archaeologists to find out just how dour the diet of Georgian sailors really was. The team’s findings also reveal how little had changed for sailors in the 200 years between the Elizabethan and Georgian eras.

Salt beef, sea biscuits and the occasional weevil; the food endured by sailors during the Napoleonic wars is seldom imagined to be appealing. Now a new chemical analysis technique has allowed archaeologists to find out just how dour the diet of Georgian sailors really was. The team's findings, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology also reveal how little had changed for sailors in the 200 years between the Elizabethan and Georgian eras.

The research, led by Professor Mark Pollard from the University of Oxford, focused on bones from 80 sailors who served from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries and were buried in Royal Naval Hospital cemeteries in Plymouth and Portsmouth.

"An isotopic analysis of bone collagen from the recovered skeletons allowed us to reconstruct average dietary consumption," said Dr Pollard. "By comparing these findings to primary documentary evidence we can build a more accurate picture of life in Nelson's navy."

In the late 18th century the Royal Navy employed 70,000 seamen and marines. Feeding so many men was a huge logistical challenge requiring strictly controlled diets including flour, oatmeal, suet, cheese, dried pork, beer, salted cod and ships biscuits when at sea.

The team's analysis shows that the diet of the sailors was consistent with contemporary documentary records such as manifests and captain's logs. As well as validating the historical interpretation of sailors' diets, this finding has implications for the amount of marine protein which can be isotopically detected in human diets.

The bones in Portsmouth were also able to show where the sailors had served. The team's results show that even when serving in naval theaters ranging from the UK and English Channel to the West Indies or the Mediterranean, the sailors converged in dietary terms into a 'naval average', due to the strict consistency of diet.

The results also showed that sailors in buried in Plymouth spent more time off the American coast than those buried at Portsmouth, which is consistent with the sailing records.

Finally, the team compared the isotopic data with research on 18 individuals from the Mary Rose, a 16th century royal flagship that sank just outside Portsmouth harbor in 1545. The results revealed that the naval diet was virtually unchanged in 200 years.

"This is one of the first studies to use this technique to examine human populations in the historic period," conclude Pollard. "Our findings demonstrate the benefits of using forensic methods to complement documentary records."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wiley-Blackwell. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Patrick Roberts, Sam Weston, Bastien Wild, Ceridwen Boston, Peter Ditchfield, Andrew J. Shortland, A. Mark Pollard. The men of Nelson's navy: A comparative stable isotope dietary study of late 18th century and early 19th century servicemen from Royal Naval Hospital burial grounds at Plymouth and Gosport, England. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 2012; DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.22019

Cite This Page:

Wiley-Blackwell. "Archaeologists reconstruct diet of Nelson's navy with new chemical analysis of excavated bones." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 March 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120323093802.htm>.
Wiley-Blackwell. (2012, March 23). Archaeologists reconstruct diet of Nelson's navy with new chemical analysis of excavated bones. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120323093802.htm
Wiley-Blackwell. "Archaeologists reconstruct diet of Nelson's navy with new chemical analysis of excavated bones." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120323093802.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Turns Out Jack The Ripper's True Identity Is Still Unknown

Turns Out Jack The Ripper's True Identity Is Still Unknown

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) — After testing DNA from a shawl found near one of Jack the Ripper's victims, a scientist said he'd identified the killer. New reports refute the claim. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Fish Fossil Shows First-Ever Sex Was Done Side By Side

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) — A 380-million-year-old fish may be the first creature to have copulative sex - and it was side by side with arms linked, like square dancers. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

As Sweden Hunts For Sub, "Cold War" Comparisons Flourish

Newsy (Oct. 19, 2014) — With Sweden on the look-out for a suspected Russian sub, a lot of people are talking about the Cold War, but is it an apt comparison? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

So, Kangaroos Didn't Always Hop

Newsy (Oct. 16, 2014) — Researchers believe an extinct kangaroo species weighed 500 pounds or more and couldn't hop. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins