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Beyond affluence: the zooarchaeology of luxury

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The statement, by the eighteenth-century economist Adam Smith, that luxuries are all things that are not necessities is too simplistic an approach to be useful within the context of zooarchaeology. To start with, all animal products could be regarded as unnecessary within the human diet. Therefore, a four-part subdivision is proposed, distinguishing between foodstuffs that fulfil basic physiological needs, those that fulfil imagined needs, those that render a diet affluent and, finally, luxury foods. Optimal foraging theory further develops this subdivision by also taking into account the costs involved in obtaining the ingredients. The distinction between the affluent and the luxurious diet in particular allows us to define criteria through which luxury foods can be recognized within a zooarchaeological assemblage. At the same time, however, the constraints of such an exercise become apparent. This theoretical approach is illustrated by case studies from Roman to post-medieval Europe.
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Keywords: Europe; Roman period; Zooarchaeology; complex societies; consumption behaviour; medieval period; post-medieval period

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Instituut voor het Archeologisch Patrimonium van de Vlaamse/Gemeenschap (IAP), Doornveld 1, bus 30, B-1731 Zelik-Asse, Belgium 2: Royal Museum of Central Africa, 3080 Tervuren, Belgium 3: Seminar für Ur und Frühgeschichte, Abteilung Archäobiologie, Universität Basel, CH-401 Basel, Switzerland

Publication date: February 3, 2003

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