"On the Red Sea in Egypt, we found hundreds of sherds (broken fragments of pottery or glass at an archaeological site) belong to the cooking pot. Some of them were very distinctive and we were actually able to identify their source in Kerala," said Roberta Tomber, Honorary Research Fellow, Department of Conservation and Scientific Research, the British Museum.
In a lecture on a 'History of Indo-Roman Trade in 10 Objects' at the Indian Museum here, Tomber said there is "no real suggestion" that these pots were travelling as commercial consignments.
"We see them as personal possessions of Indians travelling to Egypt and their wish to use their own cooking pots to cook their own types of food. In addition, we found rice which was probably the cuisine of travelling merchants, rather than the Romans, at that time," she added.
Tomber specialises in Roman ceramics from the Mediterranean and her current research interest is Indian Ocean commerce through the study of Roman and non-Roman pottery from ports of the Red Sea, South Arabia and India.
Her current projects include British Academy funded collaborative workshops between the British Museum and the Kerala Council for Historical Research on 'Indian Ocean Trade and the Archaeology of Technology'.
Three sites on the Roman Red Sea have been the subject of intensive modern investigation: Aqabah (ancient Aila) in Jordan and Myos Hormos (Quseir al-Qadim) and Berenike (in Egypt), which served as ports for Roman trade with Arabia and India.
Though the Indo-Roman trade was driven by spices, particularly black pepper, the occurrence of cooking pots shed light on a different kind of interaction.
"Cooking is a very personal thing and the discovery opened up a better understanding of how the trade operated and about the individuals who were involved in the trade," Tomber said.
Red-slipped cooking pots and casseroles are the most common Indian pottery recovered from early Roman deposits at the Red Sea ports in Egypt.
"This correspondence in cooking vessels, together with the black pepper and other finds from the Egyptian ports, establishes the material connection between the Red Sea and southwest India mentioned in ancient texts," she added.