Award of Ormrod Prize 2019

Dr Alice Toso is the winner of the Mark Ormrod Prize for 2019 for her thesis: “Diet in Medieval Portugal: exploring Inter-faith and Social Dynamics through Stable Isotope Analysis”. The Ormrod Prize is awarded annually to the best PhD on a medieval topic completed at the University of York, and is awarded in honour of Emeritus Professor Mark Ormrod in recognition of his major contribution to the field of medieval studies. Dr Toso is now based in the Department of Prehistory and ICTA at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain.


Food, faith and identity are deeply connected, and this is especially true of the Medieval period. The co-existence of different faiths and cultures between the 8th and the 15th centuries in medieval Iberia provides a remarkable framework to investigate the dietary practices of pluralistic societies. At the time of starting this PhD, the only isotopic studies published on Portuguese populations, concerned prehistoric chronologies (~7000BP). This lack of interest in the historical period, caused a significant gap in the knowledge of dietary practices in Portugal for the medieval period, both under Muslim and Christian rule. This research fills this gap in the study of medieval food practices in Portugal, analysing a large sample of human (n=251) and animal (n=76) skeletal remains from selected sites (Laranjal, Coimbra, Lisbon, Setubal, Beja, Silves and Loulé), located on a trajectory from the north to the south of the country with a date range between the 8th and 15th centuries.

This is the first application of this technique to the archaeological remains of human and animals from Muslim sites in Portugal and the most comprehensive isotopic study to date of late medieval Christian populations. The results explored for possible variations in the diet in relation to sex, geographical location (north vs south, coastal vs interior, urban vs rural) as well as chronology.

Most significantly, however, this study provided evidence for a major change in the economy after the Christian conquest. A renewed interest for seafaring activities is made visible in the diet, where archaeological evidence from fish remains is lacking, and all late medieval populations show increased intake of marine protein, including a group of Muslims living under Christian rule in Lisbon. This new evidence of the importance of fish in people’s diets matches up well with a historically attested expansion of fishing practices that characterise the Early Modern period in Portugal.

Dr Alice Toso

Please note, I am now based in the Department of Prehistory and ICTA at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, Spain. Contact me at my new email address alice.toso@uab.cat