AntiquityNOW Month: Factoid Friday! Ancient Cheese and the Mummy of Invention

Image credit: Wang da Gang

Image credit: Wang da Gang

Cheese may not be the first thought that comes to mind when Chinese mummies are mentioned, but some of those very mummies—dating back to 1615 BCE—have been found with curds of cheese on their persons. Have we piqued your curiosity? Click here to learn more about how the Chinese made cheese thousands of years ago, including their innovative technology using the ancient superfood kefir (recipe included).

Strata: Portraits of Humanity, Episode 7, “Historical Archaeology in Downtown Boise” and “South Carolina Pottery Kiln Excavation”

StrataImage-webEpisode 7 of the new documentary series Strata:  Portraits of Humanity, produced by AntiquityNOW’s partner, Archaeological Legacy Institute, considers what we uncover about a society through the remnants of its existence. In this two-part episode we observe how discarded items become touchstones for past lives—relics that capture times, places, memories, social status, gender roles and cultural attributes. And we ponder how future generations will remember us when they come upon what we in the 21st century have left behind.

In Part 1, “Historical Archaeology in Downtown Boise,” the unexpected discovery of a well associated with one of the earliest homes in Boise, Idaho, leads to an archaeological excavation. The home was built by a leading citizen, Cyrus Jacobs, and later became a Basque boarding house. Today, it is a museum run by the Basque Museum and Cultural Center.

Part 2, “South Carolina Pottery Kiln Excavation,” shows the University of Illinois excavating an industrial pottery kiln that began operation in the early 1800s and which produced the “tupperware” of the time, a commodity without which plantation life in the Edgefield District of South Carolina could not have thrived.

Strata: Portraits of Humanity is a monthly half-hour video series available online and on select cable channels. Strata is a showcase for unique and diverse stories about the world’s cultural heritage. Stories come from across the globe with segments produced by Archaeological Legacy Institute and dozens of producer and distributor partners around the world.

Click on the image below to view the program on The Archaeology Channel and scroll down to see the curriculum developed by AntiquityNOW to accompany Episode 7’s videos.

Strata may 2015

Lesson Plans


  • To introduce students to the concept of cultural heritage and its legacy today
  • To demonstrate to students how people developed cultural identity whether as a nation or a discrete society
  • To help students gain an understanding of how a people’s story can be told from the most ordinary of items
  • To appreciate how past lives have contributed to who we are today


  • To grasp the importance of cultural preservation by appreciating what we learn from past endeavor and how it applies today
  • To evaluate and think critically about how societies are built upon the ingenuity of those that preceded them
  • To grasp how the most ordinary life can have impact on those who come after
  • To realize how past lives and the contributions they made don’t die as long as we preserve their memories

Lesson Plan 1

Historical Archaeology in Downtown Boise

Project Idea #1

  • Class discussion: What does the phrase “One person’s trash is another’s treasure” mean? Make a chart using examples given by your classmates of what some would think of as trash and others would think of as treasure. Can you draw any conclusions? How does the idea of recycling affect or alter this concept?

Project Idea #2

  • What possessions do you have that are specific to the region of the country in which you live? What are specific to the country itself? What items could be universal? Make a list of each.
  • It is 3015. You are part of an archaeological team that finds the above items. Write a report from the team describing what they found and how they think that item was used. What resources would they employ to identify the items? Gathering all the items together, how would they describe the way you lived?
  • Learn more about archaeological digs and find examples of reporting sheets here.

Lesson Plan 2

South Carolina Pottery Kiln Excavation

Project Idea #1

  • Class discussion: What was the importance of these large jugs? Why were these so critical to the plantation lifestyle?
  • Find a book that talks about life on a plantation. In particular, see if you can find any journals or autobiographies.
    • Why are these types of written personal accounts scarce?
    • Write a scene with dialog between two people. This could be a slave and a master or mistress, two slaves, two slave owners, the captain of a slave ship and a crew member, etc. Consider how the characters would speak to each other. What kind of stage directions and costume instructions would you give? Click here for information on writing a screenplay.
    • Act out the scene in class.

Project Idea #2

  • Research the life of David Drake. Start here to read about this remarkable man’s life. Make a list of the things that you discover about his life.
  • Class discussion: Why is David Drake considered a man to be remembered?
  • What role does art play in the life of a man like David Drake?
    • Why did he write phrases on these stoneware vessels? Make a list of five phrases. What do they mean to you? What do you suppose they meant to David Drake?
    • Draw some vessels and write your own phrases as if you were a potter who was a slave. What would you want to communicate to people?

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Ancient Ricotta and a Simply Delicious Tart

Ricotta. Image credit: Fugzu on Flickr

Ricotta. Image credit: Fugzu on Flickr

Did you know that soft, delicious ricotta cheese isn’t really a cheese at all? It’s actually a by-product of cheese-making. We’ve assembled some facts about the history of this extremely versatile “cheese,” along with a simple recipe for a ricotta tart that combined with any seasonal fruit makes for a treat of sweet perfection.

So, ricotta isn’t a cheese. It’s actually a creamy curd that has been cooked twice. The excess whey leftover when making cheese is skimmed off and then recooked, at which point the albumin in the whey solidifies and becomes the ricotta cheese we know and love. Of course, something this delicious has many potential origins, but it almost certainly evolved, as so many ancient foods did, out of necessity. It came from “peasant thrift, dairy farmyard recycling and domestic frugality.”[1] There are a few things we know for certain about ricotta’s past.

  • The Greek writer Athenaeus (170-230 CE) wrote of a soft Sicilian cheese that he ate at a banquet. Though we don’t know for certain that this was ricotta, the evidence points in that direction. If so, this may have been the first written record of the cheese.[2]
  • Ricotta may have been introduced to Sicily when it was an Islamic state called the Emirate of Sicily from 965-1072 CE. In fact, the Arabs brought many food preparation techniques to the Sicilians, including distillation and fermenting techniques.[3]
  • The ancient Greeks ate a cheese product called oxygala that is believed to be an ancient relative of ricotta. The Greek physician Galen even wrote about it in his De alimentorum facultatibus. However, Plutarch (Greek historian, 46-127 CE) and Polyaenus (Macedonian author, 2nd century CE) wrote that oxygala was originally a Persian food, lending credence to the theory that the Arabs were responsible for ricotta as well.[4]
  • The Tacuinum Sanitatis, the Latin translation of the Arab physician Ibn Butlan of Baghdad’s 11th century health handbook, holds the very first illustration of ricotta being made. It shows a family standing over a boiling cauldron in a walled courtyard of a simple cottage.[5]
  • Ricotta, along with its European cousins including “Anari from Cyprus, Lor from Turkey, Manouri from Greece, Brocciu from Corsica and Urda from Romania,” has long been considered a food of the poor and infirm. For thousands of years it was a symbol of hardship and making do with what was at hand.

Today, ricotta has thrown off the shackles of its lowly social position and finally come into its own. It is rarely the star ingredient, demanding attention and claiming the spotlight; instead, it quietly and confidently supports and enhances the ingredients around it. Sweet and savory recipes alike can benefit from ricotta and yet, the cheese that’s not really a cheese can also stand simply on its own as a light snack with a bit of salt and pepper or some honey.

Enjoy the recipe below and delight in the enduring flavor of this wonderfully versatile food. And don’t miss our Ancient Roman Cheesecake recipe with ricotta.

Simple Ricotta Tart

*Recipe courtesy of the New York Times.

Click here to see a video of this yummy tart being made.


For the Tart Dough:

  • 1 ½ cups of all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup of blanched sliced almonds
  • ⅓ cup of confectioners’ sugar
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • ½ cup/1 stick of unsalted butter, cold and cubed
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon of poppy seeds

For the Filling:

  • ¼ cup of mascarpone
  • ¼ cup of sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon of cinnamon
  • 1 ¾ cups of ricotta
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white
  • 1 teaspoon of good strong honey, more for drizzling (optional)
  • ⅛ teaspoon of kosher salt


  1. Make the tart shell: Place 1/4 cup of flour and the almonds in a food processor with the blade attachment. Process until almonds are finely ground, about 1 minute. Add remaining 1 1/4 cups of flour, the sugar, the lemon zest and the salt. Pulse to combine.
  2. Add butter and pulse until a coarse meal forms. Add egg and pulse just until a crumbly dough comes together. Add poppy seeds and pulse briefly to combine. Press dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  3. When ready to bake the tart, roll the dough out between two sheets of plastic to a 3/8-inch thickness. Line a 9-inch tart pan with the dough and chill for 30 minutes.
  4. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line the tart shell with foil and fill with baking weights. Bake for 20 minutes, then carefully remove the foil and baking weights. Continue baking, uncovered, for about 15 additional minutes or until tart is light golden in color.
  5. While the tart crust is baking, make the filling: In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine mascarpone, sugar and cinnamon. Using the paddle attachment, beat mixture until light and fluffy, about two minutes. Add ricotta, egg plus egg white, honey and salt, and mix to combine. Pour filling into baked tart shell and smooth the top (crust can still be hot when you add the filling).
  6. Bake tart for 20 to 30 minutes, or until filling is just set in the center (a little wobble is O.K.). Let cool at room temperature on a wire rack. If you like, drizzle with honey or arrange fruit on top just before serving. Tart is best served the same day as baking.
  7. Click here for delicious seasonal fruit ideas to add to your tart.


[1] De Soissons, S. (n.d.). Fifty shades of whey – the history and making of ricotta. Retrieved May 20, 2015.

[2] Did You Know: Food History – A History of Ricotta Cheese. (n.d.). Retrieved May 20, 2015, from

[3] De Soissons, S.

[4] Dalby, A. (2003). Food in the ancient world, from A to Z. London: Routledge.

[5] De Soissons, S.

The Archaeology Channel International Film and Video Festival 2015

TAC IFVFThe Archaeology Channel,  a program of Archaeological Legacy Institute (ALI), has just completed another successful annual International Film and Video Festival. Packed with insightful and provocative films as well as lively and important discussions on the significance of cultural preservation, this year’s festival touched minds and hearts with its depictions of how precious and vulnerable our world heritage is.

The festival’s mission is:

To exhibit for our audience the wonderful diversity of human cultures past and present in the exploration of our place in history and in our world.  To promote the genre and the makers of film and video productions about archaeology and indigenous peoples.

You can see all of the festival’s winners on the TAC website, but we’d like to highlight the winners of Best Film by Jury Vote and Audience Favorite. Each film had an important message to share and did so beautifully, using the art of film to capture the images and stories of the ages.

Best Film by Jury Vote: Saving Mes Aynak

*Produced by Brent E. Huffman; USA

This film also took home the award for Best Public Education Value, an award which AntiquityNOW is especially excited about because of the importance we place on cultural heritage education.

The description on TAC’s website gives you a glimpse into this fascinating film:

Follow Afghan archaeologist Qadir Temori as he races against time to save a 5,000-year-old archaeological site in Afghanistan from imminent demolition.  A Chinese state-owned mining company is closing in on the ancient site, eager to harvest $100 billion dollars worth of copper buried directly beneath the archaeological ruins.  Only 10 percent of Mes Aynak has been excavated, though, and some believe future discoveries at the site have the potential to redefine the history of Afghanistan and the history of Buddhism itself.  Qadir Temori and his fellow Afghan archaeologists face what seems an impossible battle against the Chinese, the Taliban and local politics to save their cultural heritage from likely erasure.

You can click on the image below to watch a brief clip of the film.

Saving Mes Aynak

Audience Favorite: Agave Is Life

*Produced by Meredith Dreiss of ArcheoProductions, Inc.; USA

This film was a crowd pleaser. It also took home awards for Best Narration and Best Script (voted on by the jury).

The description from the TAC website explains how this film illuminated the importance of agave throughout time:

Texas-based archaeologists Meredith Driess and David Brown take the viewer on a 10,000 year visual exploration of the symbiotic relationship between agave and the humans who have depended upon it.  Agave Is Life, narrated by Edward James Olmos, delves into the ceremonial and sacred importance of this multi-purpose plant, native to the Americas.  From the ancient past to the present we learn how agave became embedded in myth, religion and cultural identity.  The film ends with a look to the future as today’s scientists worry about the loss of species and related human folkways—emblematic of planet-wide concerns about sustainability and our environment.

You can click on the image below to view a clip from this engaging and revealing film.

Agave is Life

Along with the film festival, Archaeological Legacy Institute also hosts The Archaeology Channel Conference on Cultural Heritage Film, which “promotes discussion and collaboration regarding the uses of cultural heritage film.”  Co-sponsored by the University Of Oregon Department Of Anthropology, the speakers at the conference “promote the creation, distribution and use of cultural heritage film as an influence for broad cultural awareness and encourage the exchange of new ideas and approaches to employ film for the common good of all humanity”.  Shirley Gazsi, president of AntiquityNOW, gave a presentation on the development of educational curricula and highlighted AN’s partnership on Strata, Archaeological Legacy Institute’s monthly short form documentary series. In 2016 the conference will be expanded with more speakers, more topics and a greater audience, andALI is already attracting participants from around the world. Stay tuned to the AntiquityNOW website for more information on our involvement in the convention and make sure to contact ALI at if you’d like to be involved in the 2016 convention.

AntiquityNOW Month: Make Something Monday! Bake Quinoa Cookies with an Ancient Grain

No Bake Quinoa Cookies Chocolate Peanut Butter and Almond Chocolate THE LOVE OF FOOD BLOGIt’s AntiquityNOW Month! Make delicious 5-Minute No Bake Quinoa Cookies using what the Incas’ called the “Mother of all Grains.”

AntiquityNOW Month: Factoid Friday! Hygiene and the Yuck Factor

old fashioned tubWhat do ashes, animal fat and goat tallow have in common? Find out what the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Germans and Gauls knew about soap and you’ll have your answer. From 2800 BCE we’ve been scrubbing and dubbing ourselves with all manner of cleansers. Learn about the antecedents of modern hygiene and personal care here.

Buildings of the Future With Foundations in the Ancient Past


UPDATE! This post was originally published on December 16, 2014. In the post below we discussed some ancient building techniques that are being employed in creative and practical ways. These techniques, while thousands of years old, are being utilized in modern constructions because they are sturdy, economical, efficient and sustainable. Today we’re bringing you one more ancient innovation: bamboo. Bamboo is one of the oldest building materials and has been used extensively in South America, Africa and especially Southeast Asia, all areas where it grows in abundance. Incredibly, even though bamboo is strong, beautiful and plentiful, in ancient times it was thought of only as a building material for the very poor.[1] Those who could not afford more lavish materials were forced to pull from their surroundings, and since bamboo was always at hand, it became the most employed. Even today in China, bamboo is referred to as “the poor man’s timber” and is not “accepted as a modern building material.”[2] However, this opinion is rapidly changing as forward-thinking architects around the world have begun to praise bamboo’s unique and valuable qualities. For example, bamboo is light and flexible, and bamboo buildings have been found to withstand earthquakes far better than those made from other more modern materials.[3] Also, while wood can take several decades to mature and be harvested, most bamboo can be harvested after growing for three to six years. In fact, there is one species that only takes two months to mature.[4] Compared to other building materials, bamboo can be processed with relatively little energy and only a limited amount is needed to build an entire house.[5] It can be combined with plywood and steel to create uniquely strong buildings able to withstand natural disasters.[6] Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Native American Wojapi

WojapiWojapi is a traditional Native American dish that has been enjoyed for centuries. We give you fair warning that once you’ve had your first taste of wojapi, you won’t be able to put down the spoon.

Wojapi has been made by Native American tribes for centuries, with each generation passing the recipe down through the family. It is created with a combination of wild berries that can be found growing on the Great Plains, corn flour and honey. One of the favored berries for the recipe is the chokecherry. Used extensively by the North American Native tribes, the chokeberries were ground up, including the stones, and used in soups, stews, pemmican and even with salmon or salmon eggs.[1] (Speaking of pemmican, check out our blog post and recipe for this ancient dried meat jerky.) The bark and even the roots of the chokecherry trees were used in medicines to treat a host of illnesses.[2] Continue reading

A Modern Makeover for an Ancient Religion: The Norse Gods Find a New Earthly Home

OdinWe see them on the big screen, bashing about aliens and each other, ruling over fantastical worlds and wielding extraordinary weapons. Their hair is perfect, muscles rippled and jaw chiseled. While Anthony Hopkins, Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston do a remarkable job of portraying the Norse gods Odin, Thor and Loki, it is likely few moviegoers are aware these are not just superheroes, sprung from the mind of a talented writer. These are important figures in an ancient religion. And now, after thousands of years, the Norse gods are getting a brand new temple, the first since the Viking age. Before we explore this new phase of the Norse religion, let’s venture into its past and find out how it all began. Continue reading

AntiquityNOW Month: Make Something Monday! Build Your Own Great Wall of China

great wall of chinaIt’s AntiquityNOW Month! The Great Wall of China was built more than 2,500 years and remains one of the world’s most remarkable projects of antiquity. Construct your own Great Wall of China and explore life under China’s first emperor in Yesterday’s Child.