Topic: Ancient Feast
Fifty years ago, the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (Penn Museum) began excavations at the ancient Phrygian capital of Gordion in central Turkey. Within six years, the expedition had made one of the most spectacular archaeological discoveries of the 20th century.
In the largest burial mound at the site, they located what has since been identified as the tomb of Gordion’s most famous son, King Midas.
A drilling rig was used to bore deeply into the mound. Some 40 meters below the upper surface, the team was rewarded—the discovery of a chamber, 5 by 6 meters in area. The excavators dug a horizontal trench into the side of the mound, then tunneled through a double wall of tree logs and timbers to reach the inner chamber, the earliest known intact wooden structure in the world.
Breaching the timber wall, the excavators were met with an amazing sight—at their feet was a body, laid out in state on a thick pile of dyed textiles inside a unique log coffin. An examination of the bones determined that the body was that of a male, aged 60-65.
Taking other facts into consideration—the dating of the tomb (ca. 700 BC), its rich contents, a palace complex of the same period at the site, and Assyrian records describing an upstart ruler named Mita who controlled the people of Mushki (known as Phrygia by the Greeks) in eastern Anatolia—scholars are generally agreed that this is indeed the tomb of King Midas.
The preservation of the tomb’s ancient organic materials, which generally degrade and rapidly disappear, was remarkable. Although the body of the king had disintegrated, patterns of purple and brown dyes were seen on the textile bedding when the tomb was first opened. (Indigo blue was confirmed as one of the dyes by Dr. Patrick McGovern and his laboratory in the Penn Museum.)anquet furnishings
The king’s coffin, which had probably been used in a public viewing ceremony before being carried into the tomb, was accompanied by 14 wood furniture pieces, often intricately inlaid. These are best interpreted as serving and dining tables for a funerary banquet eaten by the mourners before the interment. The funerary banquet had been “re-created” inside the tomb by the ancient caretakers who laid out more than 150 metal vessels, described as “the most comprehensive Iron Age drinking set” ever found.
Perhaps surprisingly, in view of Midas’s legendary “golden touch,” these vessels were made of bronze, not gold. Yet once accumulated layers of greenish oxidation were removed, the bronze gleamed like the precious metal. Three large vats (or cauldrons), with a capacity of about 150 liters each and mounted on iron tripod stands, very likely held the beverage that was served at the feast.
Banqueting protocol at a royal celebration of the time is graphically depicted on wall reliefs in the palace of the Assyrian king Sargon II at Khorsabad. A lion-headed situla or bucket from the Midas Tomb is nearly an exact duplicate to the ones shown on the Sargon relief. This situla, another ram-headed situla, 2 jugs with long, sieved spouts, and 19 juglets would have enabled the beverage to be transferred to 5-liter round-bottomed buckets which were inset into unique serving tables. From there, it was ladled into 100 finely wrought bronze omphalos drinking bowls and, for those with greater thirsts, 19 large two-handled bowls.
More on next post!