Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Origins of Past Foodways and Farming Practice in South Asia


  • Ayushi Nayak Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
  • Nicole Boivin Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History
  • Patrick Roberts Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History



agriculture, biomolecular archaeology, archaeological science, archaeology, South Asia


Today, over half of the people living in South Asia are employed in an agricultural sector that supports one of the most densely populated regions on Earth. Yet the origins of agriculture in this environmentally and culturally diverse region have received relatively little attention compared to other parts of the Old World. Narratives of agricultural origins have frequently been monocausal, treating this massive landmass as a single entity. Recently, multidisciplinary applications of diverse methods (including archaeobotany, systematic radiometric dating, stable isotope analysis, and ancient DNA) have facilitated more nuanced insights into the origins, as well as the social and environmental consequences, of different farming foodways in prehistory. Here, we review the current application of these techniques across the Indian Subcontinent, focusing on the insights they have provided into cultivation and herding practices, dietary reliance on particular foods and culinary techniques, demographic turnover, changing settlement patterns, and the environmental impacts of agricultural practice in the Holocene. We argue that such approaches are essential if we are to properly understand the diverse drivers of different farming practices, as well as their demographic, ecological and dietary outcomes on the production and consumption of food in different parts of South Asia. Only then can we begin to discuss the prehistoric origins of the culinary and agronomic diversity that characterises this region today.

Author Biographies

Ayushi Nayak, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Germany

Nicole Boivin, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Germany

Patrick Roberts, Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Germany


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How to Cite

Nayak, A. ., Boivin, N., & Roberts, P. . (2022). Multidisciplinary Perspectives on the Origins of Past Foodways and Farming Practice in South Asia. Archaeology of Food and Foodways, 1(1), 54–84.