Domestic Fowl in Roman Egypt

Mons Claudianus was a Roman settlement in the Eastern Desert of Egypt. Its purpose was for the production of large columns and basins of quartz diorite for use in Italy. The isolated location – 120 km from Luxor and 50 km from the coast – necessitated a self-sufficiency in crafts and almost all provisions must have been brought in from the Nile and Red Sea coast.

Most of the material derives from Trajanic and Antonine occupation (early second century to late second century AD), but the main complex was already in existence from at least the late first century AD and usage continued into the third century AD.

Over half of all mammal bones identified are from the donkey (Equus asinus), which must have been used for logistical support and then eaten at the end of its useful life. With these were 334 bird bones, some feathers and fragments of eggshell. Remains of large galliformes, identified as domestic fowl, are the most frequent amongst the bird remains. Bones of other species are rare. These include at least two different species of geese, stork (Ciconia sp.), quail (Coturnix coturnix), sand partridge (Ammoperdix heyi), sandgrouse (Pterocles sp.), palm dove (Streptopelia senegalensis) and brown-necked raven (Corvus ruficollis).

All of the large galliform bones were examined in order to differentiate between domestic fowl, guinea-fowl and francolin. Although many elements could be identified as domestic fowl, none could be attributed to either of the other two species. It is, therefore, assumed that all galliform fragments are of domestic fowl. The thickness, porosity and curvature of the eggshell fragments were also a good match for domestic fowl. Measurements indicate birds of small size typical of early domestic fowl and are comparable in size to a modern bantam cock.

Given the isolated nature of the settlement, it is suggested that at least some of the remains are from birds living on site. It is hypothesised that birds were brought up in crates from the Nile Valley in a similar manner to today. Some may have been intended for immediate use, whilst others may have been kept alive until required for eating, egg production and/or sacrifice. Birds may also have been kept for cock fighting, although there is no supporting evidence for this.

Reference: Hamilton-Dyer, S. 1997. The Domestic Fowl and Other Birds from the Roman Site of Mons Claudianus, Egypt. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 7: 326-329

See also: Diet and Romano-British Society, Monastic diet in Late Antique Egypt.

One response to “Domestic Fowl in Roman Egypt

  1. Pingback: Dear Kitty. Some blog :: Statue of ancient Egyptian queen discovered :: March :: 2008

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