It is fabulous to be at Malqata—an ancient Egyptian settlement with areas that show social stratigraphy and organisation. Kings, nobles, and commoners all lived here and celebrated the sed festivals of King Amenhotep III. I first worked on animal bones that were excavated from Malqata in the 1970s for my Ph.D., and am thrilled that the Met is digging now in different parts of the site so that there is a fresh source of bones to examine. The animal bones that I am studying come from trash pits, and undisturbed fill that lay in the North Village. By examining these, we are learning about what people ate and how animals were butchered.Many of the bones I am examining come from a pit just outside the enclosure wall of a ceremonial area known as the Audience Pavilion at the northern end of the Village. The pottery in the pit appears to consist of types associated with the Palace and ceremonial areas rather than types found in the Village, so it is likely that the animals were consumed as part of the festival. Most of the bones I am identifying come from cattle that were fairly young—under about two and half years old – which are more tender and delicious than the older animals. I establish the age by studying whether or not the long bones have fused—the ends of these bones join together with the main shaft at different ages. These animals would have been reared in the royal fields and brought to the palace and kept close to the royal kitchens so that they could provide fresh veal for the king, his court, and guests. They would have been prepared in a variety of ways—grilled, cooked in a stew, or fried in a pan. Sheep were also eaten, and these were young animals too. Ribs would have been barbequed and the fat from the tails used in cooking. I also found a few bones from water birds—roast goose seems to have been a popular food at the palace! Fish were consumed as well—bones of tilapia, a fish that is commonly eaten in Egypt, the US, and Europe today, are found at the site. The fish were so well preserved that their dried out scales are still present! These vegetarian fish grow quickly. They were common in the Nile and also could be farmed in ponds. Quite possibly these bones came from fish that populated the Birket Habu, the gigantic harbor that was part of Malqata.
On the whole, it seems that the king and his court enjoyed veal more than any other meat. It was jointed and then cooked in a variety of ways, although grilling seems to have been the most popular. This meat was also given as offerings to the gods as it was the most expensive type of meat in ancient Egypt. Mutton was also eaten, but was less popular, and fish was consumed in small quantities, together with birds, mainly water birds. Obviously everyone was well fed at Malqata!