Mar 152019

Today is the birthday (1851) of Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, FBA, a Scottish archaeologist and Biblical scholar. Although Ramsay was educated in the Tübingen school of thought (founded by F. C. Baur) which doubted the reliability of the Greek Testament, his extensive archaeological and historical studies convinced him of the historical accuracy of the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline epistles. His work, unlike that of Biblical archeologists who worked primarily on the foundations of Israel in his day, is still respected (with qualifications).

Ramsay was born in Glasgow, Scotland, the youngest son of a third-generation lawyer, Thomas Ramsay and his wife Jane Mitchell (daughter of William Mitchell. His father died when he was 6 years old, and the family moved from Glasgow to the family home near Alloa. He studied at the University of Aberdeen, where he achieved high distinction and later became Professor of Humanity. He won a scholarship to St. John’s College, Oxford, where he obtained a first class in classical moderations (1874) and in literae humaniores (1876), that is, Latin and Greek. He also studied Sanskrit under Theodor Benfey at Göttingen. In 1880 Ramsay received an Oxford studentship for travel and research in Greece. At Smyrna, he met Sir C. W. Wilson, then British consul-general in Anatolia, who advised him on inland areas suitable for exploration. Ramsay and Wilson made two long journeys during 1881-1882.

He traveled widely in Asia Minor and rapidly became the recognized authority on all matters relating to the districts associated with Paul’s missionary journeys and on Christianity in the early Roman Empire. Greece and Turkey remained the focus of Ramsay’s research for the remainder of his academic career. In 1883, he discovered the world’s oldest complete piece of music, the Seikilos epitaph. He was known for his expertise in the historic geography and topography of Asia Minor and of its political, social, cultural, and religious history. He was made a fellow of Exeter College, Oxford, in 1882. From 1885 to 1886 Ramsay held the newly created Lincoln Chair of Classical Archaeology and Art at Oxford and became a fellow of Lincoln College (honorary fellow 1898). In 1886 Ramsay was appointed Regius Professor of Humanity at the University of Aberdeen. He remained affiliated with Aberdeen until his retirement in 1911.

Ramsay was known for his careful attention to 1st century CE events, particularly the Acts of the Apostles and Pauline Epistles. When he first went to Asia Minor, many of the cities mentioned in Acts had no known location and almost nothing was known of their detailed history or politics. Acts was the only record and Ramsay, skeptical, fully expected his own research to prove the author of Acts hopelessly inaccurate since no one author could possibly know the details of Asia Minor more than a hundred years after the events described therein (the dating of Luke-Acts in Ramsay’s day – since revised earlier). He therefore set out to put the writer of Acts on trial. He devoted his life to unearthing the ancient cities and documents of Asia Minor. After a lifetime of study, however, he concluded:

Further study … showed that the book [Acts] could bear the most minute scrutiny as an authority for the facts of the Aegean world, and that it was written with such judgment, skill, art and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement. . . . I set out to look for truth on the borderland where Greece and Asia meet, and found it there. You may press the words of Luke in a degree beyond any other historian’s and they stand the keenest scrutiny and the hardest treatment.

When Ramsay turned his attention to Paul’s letters, most of which the critics dismissed as forgeries, he concluded that all thirteen New Testament letters that claim to have been written by Paul were authentic. Contemporary scholars are a good deal more guarded on this point. There is nearly universal consensus in modern scholarship on a core group of authentic Pauline epistles whose authorship is rarely contested: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  Scholarly opinion is sharply divided on whether or not Colossians and 2 Thessalonians are genuine letters of Paul. The remaining four contested epistles – Ephesians, as well as the three known as the Pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus) – have been labeled pseudepigraphical (falsely bearing Paul’s name) by most critical scholars. The primary opposition to Pauline authorship for the contested epistles is linguistic: the Greek in them does not accord with Paul’s style, and, in the latter cases, contain numerous anachronisms.

Here is an Anatolian recipe for lamb with purslane and pulses that now uses New World ingredients (such as tomato paste and chiles), which I have eliminated to give something closer to an ancient recipe. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) was a common green in antiquity but is not so easy to find these days outside the Mediterranean, although it is used in Mexican cooking.  It is easy to grow. It has a slightly sour taste. Cooking times here are approximate. You must check the lamb when it is cooking to be sure it is tender before adding other ingredients.

Anatolian Lamb Stew

½ cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
¾ cup small brown lentils
¼ cup olive oil
5 oz boneless lamb shoulder, cubed
1 onion, peeled and
1 ½ lb purslane, thick stems discarded and leaves coarsely shredded
½ cup coarse bulgur
2 tbsp minced garlic
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
chopped spearmint, leaves
salt and black pepper

chopped green onions and lemon wedges (for serving)


In separate pots, cover the chickpeas and lentils with water, bring to the boil and simmer until cooked (about 1 hour). Drain and reserve the cooking liquid.

In a large, cast-iron pot, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the lamb and cook until browned. Stir in the onion, and cook until softened but not browned. Add ½ cup of water and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 40 minutes, stirring from time to time and adding liquid if it becomes too dry.

Add the purslane, bulgur and ½ cup each of the reserved chickpea and lentil cooking liquids to the pot. Cover and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas, lentils, garlic and enough water to barely cover. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

In a small skillet, heat the remaining oil. Add the spearmint and ground black pepper to taste. When the oil begins to sizzle, give it a stir and drizzle it over the stew. Stir once and let stand for 30 minutes. Serve the stew at room temperature or let cool, then refrigerate and serve chilled the following day. Serve the scallions and lemon at the table.

May 242018

On this date in 1683 the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford in England opened as the world’s first university museum. Its first building was erected in 1678–83 to house the cabinet of curiosities that Elias Ashmole gave to the University of Oxford in 1677. Ashmole’s original collection was made up of an odd assortment of objects which he had collected himself as well as from the gardeners, travelers, and collectors John Tradescant the elder and his son, John Tradescant the younger. The collection included antique coins, books, engravings, geological specimens, and zoological specimens—one of which was the stuffed body of the last dodo ever seen in Europe. However, by 1755 the stuffed dodo was so moth-eaten that it was destroyed, except for its head and one claw. The museum opened on this date with naturalist Robert Plot as the first keeper. The first building, which became known as the Old Ashmolean, is sometimes attributed to Sir Christopher Wren or Thomas Wood.

After the various specimens had been moved into new museums, the “Old Ashmolean” building on Broad Street was used as office space for the Oxford English Dictionary. Since 1924, the building has been established as the Museum of the History of Science, with exhibitions including the scientific instruments given to Oxford University by Lewis Evans (1853–1930), amongst them the world’s largest collection of astrolabes.

The present building dates from 1841–45. It was designed by Charles Cockerell in a classical style and stands on Beaumont Street. One wing of the building is occupied by the Taylor Institution, the modern languages faculty of the university, standing on the corner of Beaumont Street and St Giles’ Street. The main museum contains huge collections of archaeological specimens and fine art. It has one of the best collections in the world of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, majolica pottery, and English silver. The archaeology department includes the bequest of Arthur Evans and so has an excellent collection of Greek and Minoan pottery. The department also has an extensive collection of antiquities from Ancient Egypt and the Sudan, and the museum hosts the Griffith Institute for the advancement of Egyptology.


The interior of the Ashmolean has been extensively modernized in recent years and now includes a rooftop restaurant and large gift shop. In 2000, the Chinese Picture Gallery, designed by van Heyningen and Haward Architects, opened at the entrance of the Ashmolean and is partly integrated into the structure. The gallery was inserted into a lightwell in the Grade 1 listed building, and was designed to support future construction from its roof. Apart from the original Cockerell spaces, this gallery was the only part of the museum retained in the rebuilding. It houses the Ashmolean’s own collection, but is also used from time to time for the display of loan exhibitions and works by contemporary Chinese artists. It is the only museum gallery in Britain devoted to Chinese paintings.

The Sackler Library, incorporating the older library collections of the Ashmolean, opened in 2001 and has allowed an expansion of the book collection, which concentrates on Western classical history, archaeology and art history. On 26 November 2011, the Ashmolean opened to the public the new galleries of Ancient Egypt and Nubia. This second phase of major redevelopment now allows the Museum to exhibit objects that have been in storage for decades, more than doubling the number of coffins and mummies on display. The project received lead support from Lord Sainsbury’s Linbury Trust, along with the Selz Foundation, Mr Christian Levett, as well as other trusts, foundations, and individuals. Rick Mather Architects led the redesign and display of the four previous Egypt galleries and the extension to the restored Ruskin Gallery, previously occupied by the Museum Shop.

In May 2016, the museum opened new galleries dedicated to the display of its collection of Victorian art. This development allowed for the return to the Ashmolean of the Great Bookcase, designed by William Burges, and described as “the most important example of Victorian painted furniture ever made.”

As much as for any other reason, this post gives me an opportunity to give my opinion about museums, university or otherwise. In brief: I hate them. As someone who publishes in anthropology and archeology you may find this sentiment odd, but it is really straightforward. Museums house objects out of context, one way or another. In the case of museums like the Ashmolean, they house objects that were stolen from their original owners and cultures, and in many cases they want them back. Starting in the 17th century, and reaching a climax in the heady colonial period of the 19th century, English explorers, who called themselves archeologists, loaded wagon after wagon with antiquities and sent them back to England, either for display or for storage in dusty basements. Until recently, the great bulk of items stored by the Ashmolean (and the British Museum, etc etc.) never saw the light of day (and were generally so poorly cataloged that even serious researchers had trouble finding them). It’s true that they may not fare a whole lot better in their “home” cultures, but that is where they belong. Just last week I was wandering around antiquities in Rome, and the week before that in Istanbul. In some parks and museums there I saw piles of broken statues and columns and the like lying outside in heaps. This may not have been the best use for them, but at least they were at home: they were in a more natural context than in a basement in England (or even on display in England). They are not English !!!

The second way in which items are out of context in museums, is that by displaying them, as opposed to using them, they are dead. Every amphitheater in Italy I have visited is still used for performances. I’m glad they don’t throw Christians to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome any more – that’s taking context a bit too far. But they do still hold concerts there routinely. People live in apartments in Diocletian’s summer palace in Split in Croatia. These structures are an important part of modern people’s lives and heritage. The museum at my university once held an exhibit of traditional quilts – stretched flat on starkly lit walls. Quilts don’t belong hung on walls. They belong on beds. At least if you must display them, put them on beds in a gallery where you must walk around them, see the natural folds they make and how these folds impact how you see them, and use natural light which changes as the day progresses, creating endless patterns of light and shadow.

The only general exception I make for this grumpiness is for art paintings. They were painted to be displayed on walls, and even though they might be more natural in a living room or dining room, having them in museums allows more viewers. I still prefer to see them in some form of appropriate context. Here in Mantua you can see thousands of Renaissance and Baroque paintings commissioned by successive members of the Gonzaga family on display in their old residences. That is as good a context as any.

The Ashmolean now has a rooftop restaurant for visitors, and I could give you a recipe from their menu to be as out of context as the museum is. From what I can tell from reviews, the menu is eclectic (with a heavy dose of modern Italian) and is generally overpriced. Reviews of the dishes range from stellar to garbage. I never see this as a good sign. When half give a restaurant one star and half give it five, my immediate instinct is to believe the people who have given it one. They tend to be the people who know what they are talking about, and the people who tend towards the 4/5 end are easily impressed and don’t know what good food really is. Chances are the food at this restaurant is probably around 2/3 (that is, highly average – and overpriced). Let’s instead go with something 17th century in honor of Elias Ashmole himself. I’ve mentioned The Accomplisht Cook (1st ed. 1660) by Robert May before. It’s a strange compilation in that it is highly eclectic (as is the Ashmolean’s collections), drawing on recipes from Medieval times, as well as from different parts of Europe. There are 24 chapters, dividing the recipes according to May’s somewhat original classifications system. I am drawn to chapter III “Heads” for no other reason than that I am quirky also.

This recipe appeals to me greatly and I would replicate it for you if I had a calf’s head and oysters to hand:

To roast a Calves Head with Oysters.

Split the head as to boil, and take out the brains washing them very well with the head, cut out the tongue, boil it a little, and blanch it, let the brains be parbol’d as well as tongue, then mince the brains and tongue, a little sage, oysters, beef-suet, very small; being finely minced, mix them together with three or four yolks of eggs, beaten ginger, pepper, nutmegs, grated bread, salt, and a little sack, if the brains and eggs make it not moist enough. This being done parboil the calves head a little in fair water, then take it up and dry it well in a cloth filling the holes where the brains and tongue lay with this farsing or pudding; bind it up close together, and spit it, then stuff it with oysters being first parboil’d in their own liquor, put them into a dish with minced tyme, parsley, mace, nutmeg, and pepper beaten very small; mix all these with a little vinegar, and the white of an egg, roul the oysters in it, and make little holes in the head, stuff it as full as you can, put the oysters but half way in, and scuer in them with sprigs of tyme, roast it and set the dish under it to save the gravy, wherein let there be oysters, sweet herbs minced, a little white-wine and slic’t nutmeg. When the head is roasted set the dish wherein the sauce is on the coals to stew a little, then put in a piece of butter, the juyce of an orange, and salt, beating it up together: dish the head, and put the sauce to it, and serve it up hot to the table

Dec 292017

Today is the feast of king David in a few Western Christian traditions. The theology is a bit murky here, but celebrating David within the Christmas season makes sense if you follow the logic of the gospels of Luke and Matthew. Jesus was the Messiah (anointed one) in 1st century Christian tradition which means that he had to be descended from David, and born in David’s birthplace, Bethlehem. One puzzle that the patristic fathers had to solve was whether people born before Jesus was born could become saints, that is, ascend to Paradise. After all, they could not confess him as Lord and Savior, because they were dead. If you make that confession a criterion you are stuck having to do what Dante did in the Inferno, assigning them to limbo for eternity – neither heaven nor hell. Limbo is sort of like earth without all the pain and death stuff. Plato and Aristotle are there too, according to Dante. Patristic fathers solved the puzzle by asserting that Jesus went down to hell on his death and before his resurrection and saved all the souls there. Case closed. This is the stuff that theologians come up with when they accept the Biblical narrative as it stands, but then use Aristotelian logic to sort out the problems. David presents us with just as many historical problems, starting with the fact that he may not have existed, and the splendid kingdom that he, and his son Solomon, ruled over almost certainly did not.

David is described in the Hebrew Bible as the second king of the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah. In the biblical narrative, David is a young shepherd who first gains fame as a musician and later by killing Goliath. He becomes a favorite of king Saul, first king over the united tribes of Israel, and a close friend of Saul’s son Jonathan. Worried that David is trying to take his throne, Saul turns on David. After Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle, David is anointed as king. David conquers Jerusalem, taking the Ark of the Covenant into the city, and establishing the kingdom founded by Saul.

As king, David arranges the death of Uriah the Hittite to cover his adultery with Bathsheba. According to the same biblical text, God denies David the opportunity to build the temple and his son, Absalom, tries to overthrow him. David flees Jerusalem during Absalom’s rebellion, but after Absalom’s death in battle, he returns to the city to rule Israel. Before his peaceful death, after a lifetime of troubles with his sons, he chooses his youngest son Solomon as his successor. He is mentioned in the prophetic literature as an ideal king and an ancestor of a future Messiah, and many psalms are ascribed to him.

Historians of the Ancient Near East agree that if David existed at all it was around 1000 BCE, but that there is little that can be said about him as a historical figure outside the Biblical narratives. There is no direct evidence outside of the Bible concerning David, but the Tel Dan Stele, an inscribed stone erected by a king of Damascus in the late 9th/early 8th centuries BCE to commemorate his victory over two enemy kings, contains the phrase ביתדוד (bytdwd), which most scholars quite reasonably translate as “House of David” (beyth dawid). Ancient Near East historians, following archeology, generally doubt that the united monarchy as described in the Bible existed, but, instead, is a construct of 6th century priests – the Deuteronomists.

One Biblical history of Israel and Judah is called Deuteronomic history by many modern Biblical scholars because it has the hallmarks of one continuous narrative making a strategic political/theological point. These books are called Deuteronomy, Deuteronomy and Joshua, Judges, I & II Samuel, and I & II Kings in the Protestant canon, and flow from Moses and the exodus, the desert wandering, and the conquest of Canaan under Joshua, into the period when the 12 tribes were individual nations with their own territories and rulers, forming a loose confederation that was united occasionally under Judges (שופטים šōp̄əṭîm/shoftim). The Judges united the tribes for as long as necessary, and then went back to being regular guys. Saul changed that when he confronted a number of enemies, especially the Philistines, and instead of going back to normal life, became king of the tribes. David eventually overthrew him and established a dynasty in the kingdom of Judah that is described in detail in II Kings. The final king in that line was supposed to be Josiah, whom the Deuteronomists believed was the new Messiah (anointed king) in the line of David, who would overthrow the oppression of Judah by Egypt and Babylon and establish a glorious kingdom to rival David’s and Solomon’s. Unfortunately, Josiah was killed in the battle on the plain of Megiddo the Hebrew of which gives us the English word Armageddon. From that point on the propaganda had to be rethought.

We will probably never know what sources the Deuteronomists used; most of them may have been oral. The Tel Dan Stele that mentions the House of David is likely referring to a dynasty of the kingdom of Judah which traced its ancestry to a founder named David. Anthropology can step in here. We’re pretty good with kinship and genealogy. Both the temple priests and the Deuteronomists (as well as Luke and Matthew) used genealogy as the skeleton on which to hang their histories. As all anthropologists know well, the person who is at the head of a specific genealogy gives his character to all the people who follow in his line. Jacob was a cunning, but Godly, man who wrestled with an angel (or God) and almost won. His name was changed to Is – ra – el which in Hebrew sounds like “the man who contends with God.” His sons became the sons (tribes) of Israel, and they too were all cunning and contended with God. The founder is the spirit of the nation.  Judah’s putative dynastic founder was David who came from one of Israel’s youngest sons, and was, himself, the youngest son, as was his successor Solomon.  There’s a key point here. Typically, the eldest son inherits, but throughout the Torah and into Deuteronomistic history, it’s the youngest who inherits.  Why?  The simple answer is that at one time, the supposed Davidic era, Judah was nothing but an insignificant hill country backwater. But its (related neighbor), Israel, was rich and powerful.  However, Israel was eventually destroyed by Assyria, and much of the population was deported and lost to history (the lost tribes of Israel). Judah (the poor young relative) survived, by paying tribute to Assyria rather than fighting. The youngest survived by being smart.

What I’m getting at is that genealogical history is designed to fit the propaganda narrative, not the historical facts. If David existed at all he would have been a tribal leader, in Hebrew a nagid (leader or prince), rather than a melek (king). In fact, David is often referred to as a nagid. Legends undoubtedly accrued to him and were embellished and amplified through oral tradition, until we end up with the propaganda hero whom Josiah is meant to emulate. Orthodox Jews and Evangelical Christians will take me to task over my interpretation. Let them. You can believe what you want to believe. The Deuteronomists did. It all has to do with how you see your identity. I’m not going to debate such issues: it’s a waste of time – mine and theirs. Cooking is more productive.

For David I’ve chosen a dish that may well have been common in 10th century Judah. It’s certainly very common throughout the Middle East and North Africa now.  That is, mulukhiyah, (or mloukhiya, molokhia, molokhiya, mulukhiyya, malukhiyah, or moroheiya (Arabic: ملوخية‎, Hebrew: מלוחיה), the leaves of Corchorus olitorius, commonly used as a vegetable in soups or stews that give their name to the whole dish. It is popular in Middle East, East African and North African countries. Mulukhiyyah is rather bitter, and when boiled, the resulting liquid is a thick, highly mucilaginous broth. Traditionally mulukhiyyah is cooked with chicken or at least chicken stock for flavor and is served with white rice, accompanied with lemon or lime.

The Standard Molokhia dish in the Levant is prepared by cooking a meat of some sort in a separate pot by boiling. Later onions and garlic are cooked to a simmer, then water and chicken stock cubes are added to form a broth. After boiling, the cooked chicken or meat and Molokhia leaves are added and further cooked another 15 minutes. Palestinians will serve Molokhia on a bed of rice topped with vermicelli noodles, and lemon juice and flat bread on the side. Palestinian Bedu ( بَدَوِي ) have an old tradition of cooking a different version of the dish. A whole chicken is cut open, the intestines removed, and the innards stuffed with herbs, spices and raw rice then sewn shut with thick thread. The chicken is then boiled to create the broth for the Molokhia soup which, after preparation, is served as five separate components: The Molokhia soup, Arabic flat bread, the chicken (stuffed with flavored rice), additional plain rice and a small bowl with a mixture of lemon juice and sliced chile. The soup is mixed with rice and lemon juice according to taste, while the chicken is eaten on a separate plate.

I’d wager that you are not going to find mulukhiyah in your local supermarket, but you might be able to get it frozen online. You can also get seeds online to grow it yourself, but that won’t be much help for cooking any time soon.  Here’s a good recipe anyway, in case you luck out. Some Middle Eastern cooks are assessed locally according to their ability to make a good mulukhiya. The key is to make sure not to overcook the mulukhiya. If you do, the leaves will sink to the bottom and the soup/stew will be heavy.



1 kg mulukhiya
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
½ tsp. salt
1 bay leaf
5 cardamom pods
6 boneless chicken breasts
olive oil
20 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp dried coriander
1 tbsp. lemon juice


If you have frozen mulukhiya, let it thaw thoroughly. If you have fresh leaves, parboil them in a large pot of fresh water.

In a separate pot, place the onion, chicken, and bay leaf. Cover with chicken stock and add the cardamom pods tied up in a muslin or cheesecloth bag. Add salt to taste. Bring to the boil and simmer until the chicken is just tender (25 to 30 minutes).

Remove the cardamom pods and bay leaf and discard. Remove the chicken breasts with a slotted spoon. Cut them into strips and then fry them in batches in olive oil in a clean skillet until they take on a little color.

Meanwhile use a slotted spoon to take the onion out of the soup, mash it and return it to the soup along with the fried chicken strips.  Add the thawed, or parboiled, mulukhiya and simmer for about 5 minutes. Do not overcook them. They must remain floating at or near the top.

Mix together the crushed garlic and the dried coriander and fry it in the olive oil left from frying the chicken until it is barely golden. Add to the boiling mulukhiya and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice.

Serve hot in deep bowls with flatbread.

Yield: 8-10 servings

May 242016


For some reason, today is designated as National Escargot Day In the United States. It’s one of hundreds of useless and trivial “special” food days accorded national status by the Congress. I assume it all has to do with marketing. Why cooked snails should get a special day is beyond me. But the date gives me the opportunity to talk about food preferences and prejudices, so I’ll  accept the celebration this once.

Strictly speaking, the word “escargot” in English applies to cooked snails only. Raw snails are snails. Even calling cooked snails, “escargot,” strikes me as pretentious or affected. I can understand referring to a French dish, such as escargots à la Bourguignonne, using the French word, but I don’t see why cooked snails in general can’t simply be “snails.” That’s the term I’ll use.


Not all species of land snail are edible, and many are too small to make it worthwhile to prepare and cook them. Even among the edible species, the palatability of the flesh varies from species to species. In France, the species Helix pomatia is most often eaten. The “petit-gris” Cornu aspersa is also eaten, as is Helix lucorum. Several additional species, such as Elona quimperiana, are popular in Europe.

Burnt snail shells have been found in several archaeological excavations, indicating that snails have been eaten since prehistoric times. In addition, a number of archaeological sites around the Mediterranean have been excavated yielding physical evidence of the culinary use of several species of snails. The Romans in particular are known to have considered snails a delicacy, as noted in the writings of Pliny. The edible species Otala lactea has been recovered from the Roman-era city Volubilis in present-day Morocco. Romans also practiced snail farming, or heliciculture. The method was described by Fulvius Lippinus (49 BCE) and mentioned by Marcus Terentius Varro (Terrence) in De Re rustica (On Rural Things)III, 12. The snails were fattened for human consumption using corn flour and aromatic herbs. People usually raised snails in pens near the house, and these pens were called “cochlea”.

“Wall fish” were also often eaten in Britain, but were never as popular as on the continent. People sometimes ate snails during Lent, and in a few places, they consumed large quantities of snails at Carnival, as a foretaste of Lent.

U.S. imports of snails were worth more than $4.5 million in 1995 and came from 24 countries. This includes preserved or prepared snails and snails that are live, fresh, chilled, or frozen. Major exporters to the U.S. are France, Indonesia, Greece and China. So people do eat snails in the U.S., but in my experience a great many turn their noses up at them as hideously disgusting as food. Here we run up against food prejudice. Lots of people look at snails much as they do oysters, insects, and even offal (especially tripe), making the gargantuanly ethnocentric assumption that these things are inherently distasteful, and, therefore, anyone who eats them is weird. I’ve heard people say things like, “it was a very brave person who ate the first oyster.” How stupid can you be? Foragers (hunters and gatherers) eat whatever is edible. It’s not that they are stuck for enough to eat, it’s that their overall diet is much broader than that of sedentary peoples.

sfu sfa

I’m not going to say that I find every food available in the world completely delectable. I’ve struggled a little sometimes with brains on toast. That’s because of the texture, not the idea. There’s plenty of slimy foods in Asia that don’t appeal to me even though the ingredients are straightforward. I just have a thing about certain textures. I can eat oysters all day because their texture does not bother me. My very narrow distaste may come from the fact that my mum used to make junket (a rennet custard) when I was a little boy, and I didn’t like it. I did eat it though. When my son was little we had a house rule – you cannot refuse a dish until you have tasted it. Fortunately, in that regard he was quite strange enough. He still won’t eat things made with eggs (including cake), or mushrooms, but finds duck tongue and pig stomach perfectly tasty.


In French culture, snails for cooking are typically purged (voided of unpleasant intestinal matter), killed, removed from their shells, and cooked (usually with garlic butter, chicken soup or wine), and then placed back into the shells with the butter and sauce for serving. Additional ingredients may be added, such as garlic, thyme, parsley and pine nuts. Special snail tongs (for holding the shell) and snail forks (for extracting the meat) are also normally provided, and the snails are served on indented metal trays with places for six or 12 snails. In Maltese cuisine, snails  of the petit gris variety are simmered in red wine or ale with mint, basil and marjoram. The snails are cooked, and served in their shells.


Like most molluscs, escargots are high in protein and low in fat content (if cooked without butter). Snails are estimated to contain around 15% protein, 2.4% fat and about 80% water, although this depends on the method of preservation. I expect that many readers will have trouble finding fresh snails in the market. Even buying them canned can be difficult in some places. I’m a little spoiled in that in Argentina, China, and (now) Italy, I have no problems. Canned work fine, and you don’t absolutely need the shells either (they’re mostly decorative). Here’s two-fer.


Escargots à la Bourguignonne


1 clove garlic
4 oz unsalted butter, softened
2 tsp finely minced shallot
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp dry white wine
12 to 16 snails
kosher salt (for stabilizing snail shells)
12 to 16 sterilized snail shells


Preheat oven to 450°F.

Mince and mash the garlic to a paste with a small amount of table salt. Beat together the butter, shallot, garlic paste, parsley, and pepper to taste in a small bowl. You can use a hand electric mixer or immersion blender if you are lazy. Just be sure that the ingredients are combined thoroughly. Then beat in the wine to combine.

Divide up half the butter mix between the shells, put one shell in each shell, then top up with the remaining butter mix. Spread ample kosher salt in a shallow baking dish and nest the shells in it with the open sides up.

Bake the snails until the butter is sizzling. This should only take about 5 minutes. Serve immediately with crusty bread – 4 to 6 per person as an appetizer.

Snails and Mushrooms


6 fl oz crème fraîche
8 oz black mushrooms
1 tbsp minced shallot
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (7-oz) can snails (18 to 24 snails), rinsed and drained
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
1 tsp finely chopped tarragon
1 tbsp unsalted butter
salt and pepper


Simmer the crème fraîche with the mushrooms, shallot, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste in a heavy medium saucepan, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender – about 10 minutes.

Reduce the heat to low, add the snails, herbs, and butter, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the snails are heated through – 1 to 2 minutes. Serve in small bowls.

Apr 172016


Today is the birthday (1880) of Sir Charles Leonard Woolley, the British archaeologist who discovered the Biblical city of Ur  of the Chaldees (in modern day Iraq). Ur means ‘city’ in ancient Sumerian and Akkadian. Genesis says that Ur of the Chaldees was the birthplace of Abraham but many scholars did not believe it existed until Woolley’s discoveries. He is grouped with a number of early 20th century archeologists credited with bringing a modern approach to the study.

Woolley was the son of a clergyman, and was brother to Geoffrey Harold Woolley, VC and George Cathcart Woolley. He was born in Upper Clapton now part of the London Borough of Hackney, and educated at St John’s School, Leatherhead and New College, Oxford. He was interested in excavations from a young age.

In 1905, Woolley became an assistant at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. He was volunteered by Arthur Evans to run the excavations on the Roman site at Corbridge for Francis Haverfield and began his archeological career there in 1906, later admitting in Spadework that “I had never studied archaeological methods even from books … and I had not any idea how to make a survey or a ground-plan.” He was one of the first  of the ‘modern’ archaeologists, who excavated in a methodical way, keeping careful records, and using them to reconstruct ancient life and history. Previously archeologists were more in the mold of Indiana Jones – robbing sites of “precious” artifacts and not concerning themselves with the reconstruction of ancient cultures (a popular image of archeology that I wish would die). T. E. Lawrence worked with Woolley on the excavation of the Hittite city of Carchemish from 1912–14.


Woolley’s work at Ur (a joint venture between the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania) began in 1922, and he made important discoveries in the course of excavating the royal cemeteries there, including the Copper Bull and a pair of Ram in a Thicket figurines, one of which is in the British Museum and the other in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.


When this one was discovered, the 16.5 inch figure had been crushed flat by the weight of the soil above it and its inner wooden core had decomposed. This wooden core had been finely cut for the face and legs, but the body had been more roughly modeled. Woolley used wax to keep the pieces together as it was excavated, and the figure was gently pressed back into its original shape. The ram’s head and legs are layered in gold leaf which had been hammered against the wood and stuck to it with a thin wash of bitumen, while its ears are copper but which are now green with verdigris. The horns and the fleece on its shoulders are of lapis lazuli, and the body’s fleece is made of shell, attached to a thicker coat of bitumen. The figure’s genitals are gold, while its belly was silver plate, now oxidised beyond restoration. The tree is also covered in gold leaf with gold flowers. The figure stands on a small rectangular base decorated with a mosaic of shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli. The figure was originally attached to the flowering shrub by silver chains around its fetlocks, but these chains have completely decayed. It is thought that the two figures originally faced each other as confronted animals, and that the tubes going up from their shoulders were used to support something, probably a bowl or similar object. Agatha Christie’s novel, Murder in Mesopotamia, was inspired by the discovery of the royal tombs. Christie later married Woolley’s young assistant, Max Mallowan.


Ur was the burial site of many Sumerian royals. Woolley discovered tombs of great material wealth. Inside these tombs were large paintings of ancient Sumerian culture at its zenith, along with gold and silver jewelry, cups and other furnishings. The most extravagant tomb was that of “Queen” Pu-Abi. Amazingly enough, Queen Pu-Abi’s tomb was untouched by looters. Inside the tomb, many well-preserved items were found, including a cylindrical seal bearing her name in Sumerian. Her body was found buried along with those of two attendants, who had presumably been poisoned to continue to serve her after death. Woolley was able to reconstruct Pu-Abi’s funeral ceremony from objects found in her tomb. Her headdress, cylinder seal and body were formerly on display at the University of Pennsylvania; however, they are currently being displayed in the British Museum in London.


In 1936, after his discoveries at Ur, Woolley was interested in finding ties between the ancient Aegean and Mesopotamian civilizations. This led him to the Syrian city of Al Mina. From 1937–39, he worked in Tell Atchana.

Woolley was one of the first archaeologists to propose that the flood described in Genesis was local rather than global after identifying a flood-stratum at Ur: “400 miles long and 100 miles wide; but for the occupants of the valley that was the whole world.” Such proposals led to some dramatic rethinking of the way Genesis should be interpreted, and, in turn, provoked decades of debate.

Woolley died on 20 February 1960 at age 79.


The ancient Mesopotamians used beer and bread as staples (see ).  We also have the earliest known written recipes in cuneiform documenting the basics of cooking in the region.  It is exactly as one might expect. Main ingredients (at least for royal cooking) are meats (fowl, pigeon, mutton, beef, and gazelle), fish, eggs, vegetables and pulses, flavored with garlic, coriander, and cumin. Recipes call for searing the meat then cooking in water with leeks, onions, garlic and flavorings.

It doesn’t take much imagination to recreate something close. The original recipes are translated here:


The originals contain ingredients and some rudimentary directions for cooking. For lunch today I am cooking the following:

©Mesopotamian Rabbit Stew


1 fresh rabbit jointed in 8 pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 green onions, chopped
2 leeks, chopped
ground coriander and cumin (to taste)


Brown rabbit pieces on all sides in a little olive oil in a heavy pot. Cover the meat with broth (or water).  Add chopped leeks and green onions. Season with chopped garlic, coriander and cumin to taste.

Simmer over low heat for 1 to 2 hours (depending on the age of the meat), or until the meat is tender. I usually let the sauce reduce, but you can serve it as a soupy stew as well.

Serve in deep bowls with flat bread.

Jan 052016


Today is the birthday (1906) of Kathleen Kenyon noted British archeologist whose digs in Jericho and Jerusalem helped change the pattern and aims of archeology in the Near East. Her book, Digging Up Jericho (1957), made her a celebrity in Britain and subsequently in Europe when it was translated into multiple languages.


She was the eldest daughter of Sir Frederic Kenyon, biblical scholar and later director of the British Museum. Her grandfather, John Robert Kenyon, was a lawyer and Fellow of All Souls College, and her great-great-grandfather was the politician and lawyer Lloyd Kenyon, 1st Baron Kenyon. She grew up in Bloomsbury in London, in a house attached to the British Museum, with her mother, Amy Kenyon, and sister Nora Kenyon. Kenyon’s father encouraged wide reading and independent study and in later years she noted that her father’s position at the British Museum was particularly helpful in her self education. Kenyon was an excellent student, winning awards at school and particularly excelling in history. She studied first at St Paul’s Girls’ School, where she was Head Girl, before winning an Exhibition to read History at Somerville College, Oxford. While at Oxford, Kenyon won a Blue in hockey and became the first female president of the Oxford University Archaeological Society. She graduated in 1929 and began a life-long career in archaeology.


Working in archaeology was first suggested to Kenyon by Margery Fry, librarian at Somerville College. After graduation Kenyon’s first field experience was as a photographer for the pioneering excavations at Great Zimbabwe in 1929, led by Gertrude Caton-Thompson. Returning to England, Kenyon joined the team of Mortimer Wheeler and his wife Tessa Wheeler on their excavation of the Romano-British settlement of Verulamium (St Albans). Working there each summer between 1930 and 1935, Kenyon was schooled by Mortimer Wheeler in the discipline of meticulously controlled and recorded stratigraphic excavation, which later led to her own refinements – a vital component in her own work. Wheeler entrusted her with the direction of the excavation of the Roman theatre.

As a small aside I have to mention the 1950s television show “Animal Vegetable or Mineral” where three distinguished archaeologists, under the chairmanship of Glyn Daniel, attempted to identify ancient artifacts, presented each week by a different museum. Mortimer Wheeler was a regular panelist and Kenyon appeared once. I can’t imagine such a show being produced these days – archeologists sitting around discussing the details of pots, sculptures and such !!! Impossible. Wheeler was famous for announcing now and again, “I was there when they dug it up.” Here’s a sample – absolutely hilarious.

In the years 1931 to 1934 Kenyon worked simultaneously at Samaria, then under the administration of the British Mandate for Palestine, with John Crowfoot and Grace Crowfoot. There she cut a stratigraphic trench across the summit of the mound and down the northern and southern slopes, exposing the Iron II to the Roman period stratigraphic sequence of the site. In addition to providing crucial dating material for the Iron Age stratigraphy of Palestine, she obtained key stratified data for the study of Eastern terra sigilata ware.


In 1934 Kenyon was closely associated with the Wheelers in the foundation of the Institute of Archaeology of University College London. From 1936 to 1939 she carried out important excavations at the Jewry Wall in the city of Leicester. These were published in the Illustrated London News (1937) with pioneering reconstruction drawings by the artist Alan Sorrell whom she had happened to notice sketching her dig.

During the Second World War, Kenyon served as Divisional Commander of the Red Cross in Hammersmith, London, and later as Acting Director and Secretary of the Institute of Archaeology of the University of London. After the war, she excavated in Southwark, at The Wrekin, Shropshire and elsewhere in Britain, as well as at Sabratha, a Roman city in Libya. As a member of the Council of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem (BSAJ), Kenyon was involved in the efforts to reopen the School after the hiatus of the Second World War. In January 1951 she travelled to the Transjordan and undertook excavations in the West Bank at Jericho (Tell es-Sultan) on behalf of the BSAJ.


Her Initial findings were first viewed by the public in the Dome of Discovery at the Festival of Britain 1951 with a reconstruction drawing by Alan Sorrell. Her work at Jericho, from 1952 until 1958, made her world famous and established a lasting legacy in the archaeological methodology of the Levant. Ground-breaking discoveries concerning the Neolithic cultures of the Levant were made in this ancient settlement. Her excavation of the Early Bronze Age walled city and the external cemeteries of the end of the Early Bronze Age, together with her analysis of the stratified pottery of these periods established her as the leading authority on that period. Kenyon focused her attention on the absence of certain Cypriot pottery at City IV, arguing for an older destruction date than that of her predecessors. Jericho was recognized as the oldest continuously occupied settlement in history because of her discoveries. At the same time she also completed the publication of the excavations at Samaria. Her volume, Samaria Sebaste III: The Objects, appeared in 1957. Having completed her excavations at Jericho in 1958, Kenyon excavated in Jerusalem from 1961 to 1967, concentrating on the ‘City of David’ to the immediate south of the Temple Mount.

Although Kenyon had no doubt the sites she excavated were linked to the Old Testament narrative she nevertheless drew attention to inconsistencies, concluding, for example, that Solomon’s “stables” at Megiddo were totally impractical for holding horses, and that Jericho fell long before Joshua’s arrival. Consequently, Kenyon’s work has been cited to support the Minimalist School of Biblical Archaeology.


Kenyon’s work is now seen as transitional between old-school Biblical archeology and modern Near Eastern archeology. The goal of the former was simply to support Biblical narratives and, in consequence, focused on sites mentioned in the Bible. Modern Near Eastern archeology broke away from a focus on Biblical sites to view the Levant as worthy of study independently of Biblical history. As such we now have a much broader view of the historical cultures of the region as context for Biblical analysis. One of the great casualties of this method is the whole Exodus and Conquest of Israel sequence, which is completely unsupported by archeology (not to mention the absence of evidence for the kingships of David and Solomon). Kenyon hastened the demise of classic Biblical archeology although she still had one foot in that camp.

Kenyon was in her last year as principal of St Hugh’s college, Oxford in 1973 when I was finished with required studies in theology and could spend some time on optional papers. I could have asked to have been taken on by Kenyon as my tutor, but chose instead to focus on Byzantine church history. One of my college mates did work with Kenyon and, as I had suspected, spent a term identifying and memorizing potsherds. I knew this would be his fate having already read Archaeology in the Holy Land which is precious little more than page upon page of pen and ink drawings of assemblages with attendant dates. It took me decades to recover. Nowadays I understand their importance, but I leave the meticulous work to the experts and simply draw on their conclusions. As it happens, Byzantine church history was just as tiresome in that it was taught by an absolute dullard with not an original thought in his brain.

From 1948 to 1962 Kenyon lectured in Levantine Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, her teaching complementing her excavations at Jericho and Jerusalem. In 1962, she was appointed Principal of St Hugh’s College, Oxford, and retired in 1973 whereupon she was appointed a Dame of the British Empire.

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Jericho was known in antiquity for a number of products including olives and dates – timeless products enjoyed as much today as thousands of years ago. I suggest making a plate of foods associated with the region. I do this for a quick light meal. The centerpiece can be flatbread with yoghurt and olives, to which you can add goat cheese, dates, figs, and even a pomegranate for good luck.

Jul 192015


The Mary Rose was a carrack-type warship of the English Tudor navy of King Henry VIII. After serving for 33 years in several wars against France, Scotland, and Brittany and after being substantially rebuilt in 1536, she saw her last action on 19 July 1545. While leading the attack on the galleys of a French invasion fleet, she sank in the Solent, the straits north of the Isle of Wight.

The wreck of the Mary Rose was rediscovered in 1971. It was salvaged in 1982 by the Mary Rose Trust, in one of the most complex and expensive projects in the history of maritime archaeology. The surviving section of the ship and thousands of recovered artifacts are of immense value as a Tudor-era time capsule. The excavation and salvage of the Mary Rose was a milestone in the field of maritime archaeology. The finds include weapons, sailing equipment, naval supplies and a wide array of objects used by the crew. Many of the artifacts are unique to the Mary Rose and have provided insights into topics ranging from naval warfare to the history of musical instruments. Since the mid-1980s, while undergoing conservation, the remains of the hull have been on display at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. An extensive collection of well-preserved artifacts is on display at the nearby Mary Rose Museum, built to display the reconstructed ship and its contents.


I visited the ship (along with Nelson’s Victory) about 15 years ago and was completely amazed. It was an absolute slice of history. It was like peeking inside a small Tudor village. Even though I am an anthropologist I am not a fan of museums in general, I enjoyed this display because it showed the real context where 16th century people lived, worked, played, and died. Very moving.


The Mary Rose was one of the largest ships in the English navy throughout more than three decades of intermittent war and was one of the earliest examples of a purpose-built sailing warship. She was armed with new types of heavy guns that could fire through her recently invented gun-ports (which may also have been her undoing). After being substantially rebuilt in 1536, she was also one of the earliest ships that could fire a broadside, although the line of battle tactics that employed it had not yet been developed. Several theories have sought to explain the sinking of the Mary Rose, based on historical records, knowledge of 16th-century shipbuilding, and modern experiments. The precise cause of her demise is still unclear, because of conflicting testimonies and a lack of conclusive physical evidence, but it seems likely to me that during battle she listed to starboard and water flooded in through the gun-ports.


In early July 1536 a huge French force under the command of Admiral Claude d’Annebault set sail for England and entered the Solent unopposed with 128 ships on the 16th. The English had around 80 ships with which to oppose the French, including the flagship Mary Rose. But since they had virtually no heavy galleys, the fleet vessels was at its best in sheltered waters like the Solent; the English fleet promptly retreated into Portsmouth harbour when the French arrived.

The English thence became becalmed in port and unable to maneuver. On 19 July 1545, the French galleys advanced on the immobilized English fleet, and initially threatened to destroy an English force of 13 small galleys, or “rowbarges”, the only ships that were able to move against them without a wind. The wind picked up and the sailing ships were able to go on the offensive before the oared vessels were overwhelmed. Two of the largest ships, the Henry Grace Dieu and the Mary Rose, led the attack on the French galleys in the Solent.

Early in the battle something went wrong. While engaging the French galleys the Mary Rose suddenly heeled heavily over to her starboard side and water rushed in through the open gunports. The crew was powerless to correct the sudden imbalance, and could only scramble for the safety of the upper deck as the ship began to sink rapidly. As she heeled over, equipment, ammunition, supplies and storage containers shifted and came loose, adding to the general chaos. The massive port side brick oven in the galley collapsed completely and the huge 360-liter (90 gallon) copper cauldron was thrown on to the orlop deck above. Heavy guns came free and slammed into the opposite side, impeding escape or crushing men beneath them.

For those who were not injured or killed outright by moving objects, there was little time to reach safety, especially for the men who were manning the guns on the main deck or fetching ammunition and supplies in the hold. The companionways that connected the decks with one another would have become bottlenecks for fleeing men, something indicated by the positioning of many of the skeletons recovered from the wreck. What turned the sinking into a major tragedy in terms of lives lost was the anti-boarding netting that covered the upper decks in the waist (the midsection of the ship) and the sterncastle. With the exception of the men who were stationed in the tops in the masts, most of those who managed to get up from below deck were trapped under the netting; they would have been in view of the surface, and their colleagues above, but with little or no chance to break through, and were dragged down with the ship. Out of a crew of at least 400, fewer than 35 escaped, a catastrophic casualty rate of over 90%.

A salvage attempt was ordered by Secretary of State William Paget only days after the sinking, and Charles Brandon, the king’s brother-in-law, took charge of practical details. The operation followed the standard procedure for raising ships in shallow waters: strong cables were attached to the sunken ship and fastened to two empty ships, or hulks. At low tide, the ropes were pulled taut with capstans. When the high tide came in, the hulks rose and with them the wreck. It would then be towed into shallower water and the procedure repeated until the whole ship could be raised completely.

A list of necessary equipment was compiled by 1 August and included, among other things, massive cables, capstans, pulleys, and 40 pounds of tallow for lubrication. The proposed salvage team comprised 30 Venetian mariners and a Venetian carpenter with 60 English sailors to serve them. The two ships to be used as hulks were the Jesus of Lübeck and Samson, each of 700 tons burthen and similar in size to the Mary Rose. Brandon was so confident of success that he reassured the king that it would only be a matter of days before they could raise the Mary Rose. The optimism proved unfounded. Since the ship had settled at a 60-degree angle to starboard much of it was stuck deep into the clay of the seabed. This made it virtually impossible to pass cables under the hull and required far more lifting power than if the ship had settled on a hard seabed. An attempt to secure cables to the main mast appears only to have resulted in its being snapped off. The project was only successful in raising rigging, some guns and other items and around 1549 the effort was abandoned.

During the 16th century a hard layer of compacted clay and crushed shells formed over the ship, stabilizing the site and sealing the Tudor-era deposits. Further layers of soft silt covered the site during the 18th and 19th centuries, but frequent changes in the tidal patterns and currents in the Solent occasionally exposed some of the timbers, leading to its accidental rediscovery in 1836 and aided in locating the wreck in 1971. After the ship had been salvaged it was determined that about 40% of the original structure had survived.

In the summer of 1836, a group of five fishermen caught their nets on timbers protruding from the bottom of the Solent. They contacted a diver to help them remove the hindrance, and on 10 June, Henry Abbinett became the first person to see the Mary Rose in almost 300 years. Later, two other professional divers, John Deane and William Edwards, were employed. Using a recently invented rubber suit and metal diving helmet, Deane and Edwards began to examine the wreck and salvage items from it. Along with an assortment of timbers and wooden objects, including several longbows, they brought up several bronze and iron guns, which were sold to the Board of Ordnance for over £220. The identification of the ship led to significant public interest in the salvage operation, and caused a great demand for the objects which were brought up. Though many of the objects could not be properly conserved at the time and subsequently deteriorated, many were documented with pencil sketches and watercolor drawings which survive to this day. John Deane ceased working on the wreck in 1836, but returned in 1840 with new, more destructive methods. With the help of condemned bomb shells filled with gunpowder acquired from the Ordnance Board he blasted his way into parts of the wreck. Fragments of bombs and traces of blasting craters were found during the modern excavations. Deane then abandoned his efforts .

The modern search for the Mary Rose was initiated by the Southsea branch of the British Sub-Aqua Club in 1965 as part of a project to locate shipwrecks in the Solent. In February 1966 a chart from 1841 was found that marked the positions of the Mary Rose and several other wrecks and a definite location was finally established at a position 3 km (1.9 mi) south of the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour (50°46′N 1°06′W) in water with a depth of 11 m (36 feet) at low tide. Diving on the site began in 1966 and a sonar scan by Harold Edgerton in 1967–68 revealed some type of buried feature. In 1970 a loose timber was located and on 5 May 1971, the first structural details of the buried hull were identified after they were partially uncovered by winter storms.


By 1978 the initial excavation work had uncovered a complete and coherent site with an intact ship structure and the orientation of the hull had been positively identified as being on an almost straight northerly heading with a 60-degree heel to starboard and a slight downward tilt towards the bow. As no records of English shipbuilding techniques used in vessels like the Mary Rose survive, excavation of the ship would allow for a detailed survey of her design and shed new light on the construction of ships of the era. A full excavation also meant removing the protective layers of silt that prevented the remaining ship structure from being destroyed through biological decay and the scouring of the currents; the operation had to be completed within a predetermined timespan of a few years or it risked irreversible damage. It was also considered desirable to recover and preserve the remains of the hull if possible. For the first time, the project was faced with the practical difficulties of actually raising, conserving and preparing the hull for public display. The project went from a team of only twelve volunteers working four months a year to over 50 individuals working almost around the clock nine months a year. In addition there were over 500 volunteer divers and a laboratory staff of about 70 that ran the shore base and conservation facilities.[105] During the four diving seasons from 1979 to 1982 over 22,000 diving hours were spent on the site. Raising the Mary Rose meant overcoming a number of delicate problems that had never been encountered before. Many suggestions for salvage were discarded, including the construction of a cofferdam around the wreck site, filling the ship with small buoyant objects (such as ping pong balls) or even pumping brine into the seabed and freezing it so that it would float and take the hull with it. After lengthy discussions it was decided in February 1980 that the hull would first be emptied of all its contents and strengthened with steel braces and frames. It would then be lifted to the surface with floating sheerlegs attached to nylon strops passing under the hull and transferred to a cradle. It was also decided that the ship would be recovered before the end of the diving season in 1982. If the wreck stayed uncovered any longer it risked irreversible damage from biological decay and tidal scouring.


As one of the most ambitious and expensive projects in the history of maritime archaeology, the Mary Rose project broke new ground within this field in the UK. Besides becoming one of the first wrecks to be protected under the new Protection of Wrecks Act in 1973 it also created several new precedents. It was the first time that a British privately funded project was able to apply modern scientific standards fully and without having to auction off part of the findings to finance its activities; where previous projects often had to settle for just a partial recovery of finds, everything found in connection with the Mary Rose was recovered and recorded. The salvage made it possible to establish the first historic shipwreck museum in the UK to receive government accreditation and funding. The excavation of the Mary Rose wrecksite proved that it was possible to achieve a level of exactness in underwater excavations comparable to those on dry land.


Throughout the 1970s, the Mary Rose was meticulously surveyed, excavated and recorded with the latest methods within the field of maritime archaeology. Working in an underwater environment meant that principles of land-based archaeology did not always apply. Over 26,000 artifacts and pieces of timber were salvaged along with remains of about half the crew members. The faces of some crew members have been reconstructed. Analysis of the crew skeletons shows many had suffered malnutrition, and had evidence of rickets, scurvy, and other deficiency diseases was found.


Crew members also developed arthritis through the stresses on their joints from heavy lifting and maritime life generally, and suffered bone fractures. As the ship was intended to function as a floating, self-contained community, it was stocked with food and drink that could sustain its inhabitants for extended periods of time. The casks used for storage on the Mary Rose have been compared with those from a wreck of a trade vessel from the 1560s and have revealed that they were of better quality, more robust and reliable, an indication that supplies for the Tudor navy were given high priority, and their requirements set a high standard for cask manufacturing at the time. As a miniature society at sea, the wreck of the Mary Rose held personal objects belonging to individual crew members. This included clothing, games, various items for spiritual or recreation use, or objects related to mundane everyday tasks such as personal hygiene, fishing and sewing. The master carpenter’s chest, for example, contained a backgammon set, a book, three plates, a sundial, and a tankard, goods suggesting he was relatively wealthy.


The ship carried several skilled craftsmen and was equipped for handling both routine maintenance and repairing extensive battle damage. In and around one of the cabins on the main deck under the sterncastle, archaeologists found a “collection of woodworking tools … unprecedented in its range and size”, consisting of eight chests of carpentry tools. Along with loose mallets and tar pots used for caulking, this variety of tools belonged to one or several of the carpenters employed on the Mary Rose.


Many of the cannons and other weapons from the Mary Rose have provided invaluable physical evidence about 16th-century weapon technology. The surviving gunshields are almost all from the Mary Rose, and the four small cast iron hailshot pieces are the only known examples of this type of weapon.


Animal remains have been found in the wreck of the Mary Rose. These include the skeletons of a rat, a frog and a dog. The dog, a mongrel between eighteen months and two years in age, was found near the hatch to the ship’s carpenter’s cabin and is thought to have been brought aboard as a ratter. Nine barrels have been found to contain bones of cattle, indicating that they contained pieces of beef butchered and stored as ship’s rations. In addition, the bones of pigs and fish, stored in baskets, have also been found.

mr13  mr19

Two fiddles, a bow, a still shawm or doucaine, three three-hole pipes, and a tabor drum with a drumstick were found throughout the wreck. These would have been used for the personal enjoyment of the crew and to provide a rhythm to work on the rigging and turning the capstans on the upper decks. The tabor drum is the earliest known example of its kind and the drumstick of a previously unknown design. The tabor pipes are considerably longer than any known examples from the period. Their discovery proved that contemporary illustrations, previously viewed with some suspicion, were in fact accurate depictions of the instruments. Before the discovery of the Mary Rose shawm, an early predecessor to the oboe, instrument historians had been puzzled by reference to “still shawms”, or “soft” shawms, that were said to have a sound that was less shrill than earlier shawms. The still shawm disappeared from the musical scene some time in the 16th century, and the instrument found on the Mary Rose is the only surviving example. A reproduction has been made and played. Combined with a pipe and tabor, it provides a bass part for dance music.

A small note here about the use of the word “fiddle” in case my violinist friends protest. Nowadays the words “violin” and “fiddle” are used to denote genres of music, hence the instruments themselves. “Fiddle” is used for folk music and “violin” for classical music. In Tudor England “fydell” was used commonly, and the Mary Rose instruments are quite different from contemporary viols in shape, size and construction. Only a few other fiddle-type instruments from the 16th century exist, but none of them of the type found on the Mary Rose. Reproductions of both fiddles have been made, though less is known of their design than the shawm since the necks and strings are missing.

In the remains of a small cabin in the bow of the ship and in a few other locations around the wreck was found the earliest dated set of navigation instruments in Europe found so far: compasses, divider calipers, a stick used for charting, protractors, sounding leads, tide calculators and a logreel, an instrument for calculating speed. Several of these objects are not only unique in having such an early, definite dating, but also because they pre-date written records of their use; protractors would have reasonably been used to measure distance on maps, but sea charts are not known to have been used by English navigators during the first half of the 16th century, compasses were not depicted on English ships until the 1560s, and the first mention of a logreel is from 1574.


The cabin located on the main deck underneath the sterncastle is thought to have belonged to the barber-surgeon. He was a trained professional who saw to the health and welfare of the crew and acted as the medical expert on board. The most important of these finds were found in an intact wooden chest which contained over 60 objects relating to the barber-surgeon’s medical practice: the wooden handles of a complete set of surgical tools and several shaving razors (although none of the steel blades had survived), a copper syringe for wound irrigation and treatment of gonorrhoea, and even a skillfully crafted feeding bottle for feeding incapacitated patients. More objects were found around the cabin, such as earscoops, shaving bowls and combs. With this wide selection of tools and medicaments the barber-surgeon, along with one or more assistants, could set bone fractures, perform amputations and deal with other acute injuries, treat a number of diseases and provide crew members with a minimal standard of personal hygiene.


The conditions of the crews’ skeletons found indicate that their diet was much the same as that of later centuries for sailors, namely, salted meat and dried legumes. I’ve given recipes for these before, so here is a recipe for ox kidneys (a favorite of mine) from a cookbook contemporary with the Mary Rose: A proper new Booke of Cookery. Declaring what maner of meates be best in season for al times of the yeere, and how they ought to be dressed, & served at the Table, both for fleshe dayes and Fish daies. with a new addition, very necessary for al them that delight in Cookery. This is a book of recipes written for women running their own households by an unknown author. The text was published in London and survives in three editions: 1545 (held at the University of Glasgow), 1557-1558 (held at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge) and two later editions, one of 1575 (held in the British Library). It is a relatively small volume, beginning with a list of meats and their seasons, followed by a listing of dinners and suggested dishes for service for both flesh and fish days. After this comes a list of 49 recipes mostly covering meat dishes and pies, though there are a small number of dessert dishes. You can find a transcription here:


I have chosen a recipe for vautes, a kidney-stuffed pancake of sorts. As was common in Tudor cookery this is a meat dish loaded with dried fruits (progenitor of modern mince pies). The recipe is easy enough to follow, although I have not tried it.

To make Vautes.

Take the kidney of Veale, and par-boyle it till it be tender, then take and chop it small with the yolkes of three or fouer Egges, than season it with dates small cut, small raysins, ginger, Suger, Cinnamon, saffron, and a litle salt, and for the paste to lay it in, take a dosyn of Egges both the white and the yolkes, and beate them well altogether then take butter and put into a fryinge pan and frye them as thinne as a Pan-cake, then lay your stuffe therin, and so frye them together in a panne, and cast suger and ginger upon it, and so serve it forth.

Jun 032014


Today is the birthday (1853) of Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie, FRS, commonly known as Flinders Petrie, an English Egyptologist and a pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology and the preservation of artifacts. He held the first chair of Egyptology in the United Kingdom, and excavated many of the most important archaeological sites in Egypt. Some consider his most famous discovery to be that of the Merneptah Stele, which was the first written document to record the existence of ancient Israel in Biblical times. Petrie also developed a system of dating layers at sites based on pottery and ceramic findings.

Flinders Petrie was born in Maryon Road, Charlton, Kent, the son of William Petrie (1821–1908) and Anne (née Flinders (1812–1892). Anne was the daughter of Captain Matthew Flinders, surveyor of the Australian coastline, spoke six languages and was an Egyptologist. William Petrie was an electrical engineer who developed carbon arc lighting and later developed chemical processes for Johnson, Matthey & Co.

Petrie had little formal education in school. His father taught him how to survey accurately, laying the foundation for his archaeological career. At the age of eight, he was tutored in French, Latin, and Greek, until he had a collapse and was taught at home thereafter. He never received any university training and so was considered by others in Egyptology as an amateur. He ventured his first archaeological opinion aged eight, when friends visiting the Petrie family were describing the unearthing of the Brading Roman Villa in the Isle of Wight. He was horrified to hear of the rough shoveling out of the contents, and protested that the earth should be pared away, inch by inch, to see all that was in it and how it lay. “All that I have done since,” he wrote when he was in his late seventies, “was there to begin with, so true it is that we can only develop what is born in the mind. I was already in archaeology by nature.”


On 26 November 1896, Petrie married Hilda Urlin (1871–1957) in London. They had two children, John (1907–1972) and Ann (1909–1989). They originally lived in Hampstead, where an English Heritage blue plaque now stands on the building they lived in, 5 Cannon Place. Their son was John Flinders Petrie, the mathematician, who gave his name to the Petrie polygon. In 1933, on retiring from his professorship, he moved permanently to Jerusalem, where he lived with Lady Petrie at the British School of Archaeology, then temporarily headquartered at the American School of Oriental Research (today the W. F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research).

When he died in 1942, Petrie donated his head (and thus his brain) to the Royal College of Surgeons of London while his body was interred in the Protestant Cemetery on Mt. Zion. World War II was then at its height, and the head was delayed in transit. After being stored in a jar in the college basement, its label fell off and no one knew who the head belonged to. It was identified however, and is now stored, but not displayed, at the Royal College of Surgeons of London.

In his teenage years, Petrie surveyed British prehistoric monuments (commencing with the late Romano-British ‘British Camp’ that lay within yards of his family home in Charlton) in attempts to understand their geometry (at 19 producing the most accurate survey of Stonehenge). His father had corresponded with Piazzi Smyth about his theories of the Great Pyramid, and Petrie traveled to Egypt in early 1880 to make an accurate survey of Giza, making him the first to properly investigate how the pyramids were constructed (many theories had been advanced on this, and Petrie read them all, but none was based on first hand observation or logic).


Petrie’s published report of this triangulation survey, and his analysis of the architecture of Giza therein, was exemplary in its methodology and accuracy, disproved Smyth’s theories, and still provides much of the basic data regarding the pyramid plateau to this day. On that visit, he was appalled by the rate of destruction of monuments and mummies. He described Egypt as “a house on fire, so rapid was the destruction” and felt his duty to be that of a “salvage man, to get all I could, as quickly as possible and then, when I was 60, I would sit and write it all.”


There is too much to say about all of Petrie’s work in Egypt. He was a towering figure not just in Egyptology but in the development of scientific archeology in general. Two aspects of his life’s work stand out – the discovery of the Merneptah Stele and the development of contextual seriation for dating sites. I will focus here on these.

In early 1896, Petrie and his archaeological team were conducting excavations on a temple in Petrie’s area of concession at Luxor. This temple complex was located just north of the original funerary temple of Amenhotep III which had been built on a flood plain. They were initially surprised that this building which they were excavating was also attributed to Amenophis III since only his name appeared on blocks strewn over the site. Petrie dug and soon solved the puzzle: the temple had been built by Merenptah, the son and successor of Ramesses II, almost entirely from stone which had been plundered from the temple of Amenophis III nearby. Statues of the latter had been smashed and the pieces thrown into the foundations; fragments of stone jackals, which must have once formed an imposing avenue approaching the pylon, and broken drums gave some idea of the splendor of the original temple.

A statue of Merenptah himself was found—the first known portrait of this king. Two splendid stelae were found, both of them usurped on the reverse side by Merenptah, who had turned them face to the wall. One, beautifully carved, showed Amenophis III in battle with Nubians and Syrians; the other, of black granite, was over ten feet high, larger than any stele previously known: the Merenptah Stele.


The original text commemorated the building achievements of Amenophis and described the beauties and magnificence of the temple in which it had stood. When it could be turned over an inscription of Merenptah recording his triumphs over the Libyans and the Peoples of the Sea was revealed. Of key importance were these lines concerning battles in Canaan:

Seized is the Kanaan with every evil,
Led away is Askelon,
Taken is Gezer,
Yenoam is brought to nought,
The people of Israel is laid waste, — their crops are not,
Khor (Palestine) has become as a widow for Egypt,
All lands together — they are in peace.
Every one who roamed about
Is punished by King Merenptah, gifted with life,
like the sun every day.

When reading this text in the field Petrie commented, “Won’t the reverends be pleased?” At dinner that evening Petrie prophesied: “This stele will be better known in the world than anything else I have found.” It was the first mention of the word “Israel” in any Egyptian text and the news made headlines when it reached the English papers. Up until that point the only source for the history of Israel was the Bible itself. This was the first confirmation of Biblical history external to the Bible. It was a find that began the long arduous journey of comparing the Biblical accounts of Israel’s history with archeology, still in progress to this day.


Petrie’s painstaking recording and study of artifacts set new standards in archaeology, saying “I believe the true line of research lies in the noting and comparison of the smallest details.” Before Petrie archeology was pretty much of the Indiana Jones type – collect magnificent artifacts to take home and place in museums, and leaving the rest behind. Petrie showed the value of collecting EVERYTHING, even the tiniest potsherds, noting meticulously the location of every find. Indiana Jones’ style of “archeology” makes good movies, but it does little to advance our knowledge of ancient times. Sifting and sorting potsherds is a lot less romantic, but a lot more revealing in the long run.

Through the gathering of assemblages of broken bits and pieces from numerous sites Petrie developed a method of dating now known as contextual seriation. I’ll spare you the technical details. Seriation is basically a way of dating a site relative to others when no other dating method is available. Carbon 14 is a well known method of absolute dating that is very accurate. But it relies on the existence of animal or vegetable materials at the site. If you have nothing but stones and pots you have to rely on seriation. Some of Petrie’s methods are still in use today.

Apart from his fieldwork Flinders Petrie was also responsible for mentoring and training a whole generation of Egyptologists, including Howard Carter who discovered Tutankhamen’s tomb. His legacy will never fade.


Naturally there are no ancient Egyptian cookbooks. There are barely any texts at all, and they are devoted to battles and the like. But archeological sites do give evidence of the diet of the ancient Egyptians. It is not so very different from the diet of the Middle East in general which I noted on 31 May (Visitation of Mary). Meat, however, was more plentiful and more varied, although still not available daily to common people. Interestingly, excavations at the Giza workers’ village have uncovered evidence of massive slaughter of beef, mutton and pork, such that researchers estimate that the workforce building the Great Pyramid was fed beef every day. Otherwise legumes, such as fava beans and lentils were still a critical source of protein. Here’s a falafel recipe that is current but could well have its roots in ancient cooking.


Taamia Falafal

½ lb/250g fava beans, soaked and drained
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
2 tsp ground black pepper
½ cup finely chopped parsley
½ tsp salt
sesame seeds
olive oil


The fava beans need to be soaked in water for 24 hours.

Remove the skins and mash them along with the garlic, onion, cumin, coriander, pepper, salt, and parsley until they are a smooth paste. Pulsing using a food processor speeds the process. Leave the paste for one hour. Shape into  flat buns and coat lightly with sesame seeds.

Fry them in olive oil in batches on medium heat until golden brown. Strain on wire racks and leave them to cool. Serve with pita bread, cucumbers, lettuce and sliced fresh onion.

Aug 162013


Today is the birthday (1888) of Thomas Edward Lawrence, CB, DSO, known professionally as T. E. Lawrence, and popularly as Lawrence of Arabia. He was a British Army officer renowned especially for his liaison role during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign and the Arab Revolt against Ottoman Turkish rule of 1916–18. The breadth and variety of his activities and associations, and his ability to describe them vividly in writing, earned him international fame. He was featured in the 1962 epic film, Lawrence of Arabia, which captured some of the mood of Lawrence’s campaigns in Arabia, but was riddled with historical inaccuracies, and completely missed the mark with regards to Lawrence’s personal character. Unfortunately the film has left a lasting impression in the popular mind.

Lawrence was born in Tremadog in Wales as the illegitimate son of Sir Thomas Chapman and Sarah Junner, a governess who was herself illegitimate. Chapman left his wife and first family in Ireland to live with Sarah Junner, where they called themselves Mr and Mrs Lawrence. In the summer of 1896 the “Lawrence” family moved to Oxford. At the age of 15, T.E. Lawrence and his school friend Cyril Beeson bicycled around Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Oxfordshire, visiting almost every village’s parish church, studying their monuments and antiquities, and making rubbings of their monumental brasses. Lawrence and Beeson monitored building sites in Oxford and presented their finds to the Ashmolean Museum. The Ashmolean’s Annual Report for 1906 said that the two teenage boys “by incessant watchfulness secured everything of antiquarian value which has been found.”

In the summers of 1906 and 1907 Lawrence and Beeson toured France by bicycle, collecting photographs, drawings, and measurements of medieval castles.  In 1907 Lawrence entered Jesus College at Oxford University to read history. In the summer of 1909 Lawrence set out alone on a three-month walking tour of crusader castles in Ottoman Syria, travelling 1,000 mi (1,600 km) on foot. He took a First Class Honours B.A. in 1910 and submitted a thesis entitled “The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture—to the end of the 12th Century” based on his field research with Beeson in France, notably in Châlus, and his solo research in the Middle East.

In December 1910 he sailed for Beirut, and on arrival went to Jbail (Byblos), where he studied Arabic. He then went to work on the excavations at Carchemish, near Jerablus in northern Syria, where he worked under D. G. Hogarth and R. Campbell Thompson of the British Museum, and with Sir Leonard Woolley (one of the most influential figures in the development of modern archeology). As the site lay near an important crossing on the Baghdad Railway, knowledge gathered there turned out to be of considerable importance to the military. Lawrence continued making trips to the Middle East as a field archaeologist until the outbreak of the First World War. In January 1914, Woolley and Lawrence were co-opted by the British military as an archaeological smokescreen for a British military survey of the Negev Desert. They were funded by the Palestine Exploration Fund to search for an area referred to in the Bible as the “Wilderness of Zin.” Along the way, they undertook an archaeological survey of the Negev Desert. The Negev was of strategic importance, as it would have to be crossed by any Ottoman army attacking Egypt in the event of war. Woolley and Lawrence subsequently published a report of the expedition’s archaeological findings, but also updated mapping of the area, with special attention to features of military relevance such as water sources. From March to May 1914, Lawrence worked again at Carchemish. Following the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, Lawrence did not immediately enlist in the British Army. He held back until October, when he was commissioned on the General List; and immediately posted to the intelligence staff in Cairo because of his extensive knowledge of the Middle East.

Woolley (L) and Lawrence

Woolley (L) and Lawrence

The Arab Bureau of Britain’s Foreign Office conceived a campaign of internal insurgency against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East. The Arab Bureau had long felt it likely that a campaign instigated and financed by outside powers, supporting the breakaway-minded Arab factions and regional challengers to the Turkish government’s centralized rule of their empire, would pay great dividends in the diversion of effort that would be needed to meet such a challenge. The Arab Bureau had recognized the strategic value of what is today called the “asymmetry” of such conflict. The Ottoman authorities would have to devote from a hundred to a thousand times the resources to contain the threat of such an internal rebellion compared to the Allies’ cost of sponsoring it.

The British government in Egypt sent Lawrence to work with the Hashemite forces in the Arabian Hejaz in October 1916. During the war, Lawrence fought with Arab irregular troops under the command of Emir Faisal, a son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca, in extended guerrilla operations against the armed forces of the Ottoman Empire.  He was a major player in the Arab revolt against the Turks ultimately leading to the downfall of the Ottoman Empire and, eventually, to the creation of Arab states in the Middle East.


I won’t go in to a lot of detail. For one thing, I don’t like war, and, for another, the actions of both the British and the Arabs during the war were not of the highest moral standards. After gaining the trust of Arab leaders Lawrence co-ordinated Arab activities of a guerrilla nature, such as blowing up rail lines and disrupting supply lines and communications. He was also responsible for organizing Arab irregular troops leading to the fall of the strategic towns of Aqaba and Tafileh. After leading forces against Tafileh Lawrence was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. He was 30.


During the closing years of the war he sought, with mixed success, to convince his superiors in the British government that Arab independence was in their interests. The secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Britain contradicted the promises of independence he had made to the Arabs, and left him deeply disillusioned. After the war Lawrence was involved for a time in peace negotiations, and then retired to All Souls College, Oxford, where he held a 7 year fellowship for the purpose of writing a history of the Arab campaign.  Seven Pillars of Wisdom was one of the products of these years, written from start to finish afresh three separate times, the first time because he left the entire manuscript (250,000 words) in a satchel on a platform at Reading train station while changing trains.


After this stint in Oxford he dropped out of sight and his actions have left historians puzzled. In August 1922, Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force as an aircraftman under the name John Hume Ross. At the RAF recruiting center in Covent Garden in London he was interviewed by a recruiting officer – Flying Officer W. E. Johns, later to be well known as the author of the Biggles novels concerning a WW I flying ace (read them all as a boy). Johns rejected Lawrence’s application as he correctly believed “Ross” was a false name. Lawrence admitted this was so and that the documents he provided were falsified. But he returned some time later with an RAF messenger, carrying a written order for Johns to accept Lawrence.

However, Lawrence was forced out of the RAF in February 1923 after being exposed. He changed his name to T. E. Shaw and joined the Royal Tank Corps in 1923. He was unhappy there and repeatedly petitioned to rejoin the RAF, which finally readmitted him in August 1925. A fresh burst of publicity after the publication of a 2nd edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom resulted in his assignment to a remote base in British India in late 1926, where he remained until the end of 1928. At that time he was forced to return to Britain after rumors began to circulate that he was involved in espionage activities. He continued serving in the RAF based at Bridlington, East Riding of Yorkshire, specializing in high-speed boats and professing happiness. It was with considerable regret that he left the service at the end of his enlistment in March 1935.

At the age of 46, two months after leaving military service, Lawrence was fatally injured in an accident on his Brough Superior SS100 motorcycle in Dorset, close to his cottage, Clouds Hill, near Wareham. A dip in the road obstructed his view of two boys on their bicycles; he swerved to avoid them, lost control, and was thrown over the handlebars. He died six days later on 19 May 1935. The spot is marked by a small memorial at the side of the road.


One of the doctors attending him was the neurosurgeon Hugh Cairns, who consequently began a long study of what he saw as the unnecessary loss of life by motorcycle dispatch riders through head injuries. His research led to the use of crash helmets by both military and civilian motorcyclists.

In his (unpublished) field journal for May 1917 Lawrence describes a Bedu (Bedouin) feast he attended that consisted of boiled lamb and rice.

“. . . then two men came in carrying a copper butt, sixty inches across and perhaps five inches deep brimful of white rice topped with legs of sheep and ribs within the middle the boiled head, afterward the neck buried in the rice to the ears, which stuck up like withered leaves.”

This dish is known as mansaf and is nowadays much more kitchen friendly than it was in Lawrence’s Bedu encampment. It is the national dish of Jordan. Lawrence says that the rice was cooked in yoghurt but I suspect he misunderstood that the yoghurt flavor of the rice comes from the sauce that the lamb is cooked in.  Jameed is dried, fermented yoghurt that you can find online. If not just increase the amount of plain yoghurt. I give you here the simple version as served to Lawrence, but if you like you can spike the yoghurt sauce with spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves. Personally I prefer it with saffron only.




2 lbs (1 kilo) lean lamb cut in large pieces
1 cup jameed
2 cups plain yoghurt
2 cups long grain rice or basmati rice
4 tbsps ghee or clarified butter
1 tsp saffron
1 cup whole blanched almonds


Put the jameed in a bowl with a cup of water and let it soak overnight.

Melt 2 tablespoons of ghee in a heavy pot.  Add the lamb and sauté for 2 minutes. It should not brown.

Add 2 cups of water, bring to a boil, then simmer on low heat for an hour or until the meat is tender.

Place the rice in a bowl and cover with warm water.  Let it soak for at least 10 minutes, up to 1 hour.

Blend the jameed and soaking water in a food processor or blender until smooth.  Set aside. Blend the yoghurt with 1 cup of water, and add it to the blended jameed.  Stir well, and add to the simmering lamb. Add the saffron. Continue to simmer.

Drain the rice and rinse well in a sieve under running water.  Place the rice in a pot with 2 ½ cups of water. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes.

Sauté the almonds in the remaining ghee until they take on a little color.

To serve, spread the rice on a large platter.  Put the cooked lamb on top, and sprinkle the almonds over the lamb. Pour the yoghurt sauce over the dish to moisten. Serve as a communal dish in the center of the table with flatbread.

Serves 4