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Beer-drinking cups being excavated at Khani Masi held some of the earliest chemical evidence of beer. Researchers had to take extra precautions to avoid contaminating the cups with modern compounds. (Courtesy Sirwan Regional Project)

Original article:

Smithsonianmag.com

Researchers are working on resurrecting the recipe

 

Archaeologists have long known beer was important in the ancient world, but mainly from writings and drawings—finding actual archaeological evidence of the fermented beverage has been a major challenge.

But archaeologists have now employed a new technique to detect beer residues in nearly 2,500-year-old clay cups dug up in a site in northern Iraq.

“What Elsa [Perruchini] has demonstrated is the chemical signature of fermentation in the vessels that also contains the chemical signatures consistent with barley,” says Claudia Glatz, a senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Glasgow and a coauthor of a study published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science. “Putting those together is the interpretation that this is barley beer.”

The use of the technique will likely prove groundbreaking, giving archaeologists a chance to find beer at other excavations. But it is also helping Glatz and Perruchini, a PhD archaeology student at the university and the lead author of the study, understand more about the Babylonian Empire’s outer reaches during a period of cultural upheaval.

Archaeologists have long known beer has been around in Mesopotamia from iconography which showed beer drinking and references to the beverage in old accounting texts describing beer given as rations. Among the best known examples are those found in the Sumerian Hymn to Ninkasi dating to roughly 1800 BC. A beer recipe in the form of a poem, the text praises the beer goddess Ninkasi for soaking malt in a jar and spreading mash on reed mats, among other things.

Further references to beer can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh – a Mesopotamian poem considered the oldest surviving work of literature—in which Enkidu, a “wild man” who grew up in the forest, drinks seven jugs of beer and decides he likes civilization enough to become Gilgamesh’s sidekick.

“[Beer] is a quintessential Mesopotamian food stuff,” says Glatz. “Everyone drank it but it also has a social significance in ritual practices. It really defines Mesopotamian identities in many ways.”

The earliest physical trace of beer dates back to the late fourth millennium BC in present day Iran at a site called Godin Tepe, where archaeologists found what is known as beerstone, a chemical byproduct related to the brewing process and visible to the eye, on ancient ceramic material.

But Perruchini got downright microscopic, examining the chemicals present in the residues clinging to the clay of old cups and jars. She and Glatz are involved with a larger archaeological project at the site, called Khani Masi, exploring the evidence of imperial expansion of the Babylonians into the Diyala River valley. The area, in present day Kurdistan in northern Iraq, is key because it formed a travel hub, connecting the lowlands where some of the world’s first cities and imperial powers were formed with the resource-rich Zagros Mountains.

“Those are very important long distance exchange routes that are leading through this area,” Glatz says.

The excavated section of Khani Masi Perruchini and Glatz are working on dates from 1415 BC to 1290 BC, the late Bronze Age, according to the material evidence such as pottery and the evidence of burial practices excavated. Perruchini was interested in seeing how the people who lived in the area identified culturally, and what better way to get to the bottom of this than examining the food and drink they consumed?

Perruchini says that she first tried to use more traditional chemistry techniques to test the residues, but found the results had been contaminated.

“During an excavation, usually people are touching everything, so it’s going to leave residuals on it,” she says.

One particularly troublesome contaminant comes from the sunscreen often used in sun-drenched digs. As Perruchini notes, some chemical compounds in sunscreen are similar to wine, which could be confusing archaeologists in some cases.

Perruchini decided to take the lab directly to the field, handling freshly excavated bowls or cups with gloves to get more reliable results before anyone else got their hands on them.

“This isn’t something that is discussed a whole lot in the organic residue work in archaeology,” Glatz says. “So Elsa’s method is actually very important in gaining reliable archaeological results – that is not something that has happened so much in the past.”

Perruchini then analyzed the distinct compounds of the residues using gas chromatography, a technique that separates the various compounds present in a mixture. Gas chromatography had not been used in archaeology to examine a collection of compounds to identify something like beer, and the method allowed her to get very specific in her analysis. The team could ignore any contemporary chemicals, while an analysis of soil samples taken from outside the clay vessels allowed them to rule out any soil contamination which could have affected the residues over the past two millennia and “only focus on archaeologically significant compounds.” They then compared the remaining compounds with residues left from modern-day beer samples and found they matched.

“It’s actually very affordable,” Perruchini says about the process, adding that other archaeologists should be able to repeat her technique to identity beer or other residues in ancient remains.

“They were really able to get a gold mine of information out of these pots,” says Mara Horowitz, an archaeology lecturer at Purchase College at the State University of New York who was not involved in the recent work. “It looks like they have done what we’ve all been dreaming about doing.”

She adds that it’s a pity that so many cups already excavated can no longer be examined in this way, since they have likely already been contaminated by modern chemicals.

Augusta McMahon, a reader in Mesopotamian archaeology at the University of Cambridge, agrees that many archaeologists – herself included – haven’t been careful enough when handling old pots and other material evidence, other than keeping certain objects within the protocols required for radiocarbon dating. She added the study was “very exciting” and “good science.”

But both McMahon and Horowitz are also interested in the social aspect of the study and what it means.

According to iconography and excavations from sites older than Khani Masi, Mesopotamians usually drank beer from straws in a larger communal jar around the third millennium BC. But in the subsequent millennium, these larger beer jugs start to give way to individual vessels.

“We have this explosion of a very diverse range of drinking cups,” Glatz says, adding that archaeologists in the past assumed the “daintier vessels” were used for wine. But their chemical analysis shows they held beer.

Horowitz says that the shift to these cups gives archaeologists a sense of social processes, as well as marks of status and power depending on the degree of work that went into their design.

“Interactions at a site like Khani Masi can really give us a sense of what’s going on in a local scale,” she says.

Khani Masi was contemporary with the Kassite rule of the Babylonian empire in Mesopotamia and likely under Kassite control. The Kassites, who likely originated from the Zagros Mountains, assimilated many of the previous Mesopotamian cultural traditions and had diplomatic relations with other empires such as the Assyrians and the Egyptians.

“Khani Masi very much looks like another outpost if you like, or a settlement of Kassite origin in some ways,” Glatz says. But their analysis of the cups shows that while it may have sat near the edges of the empire, the locals drank beer similar to other Mesopotamians, indicating that cultural practices from the center of the empire had spread to the fringes.

Beer was important to the Mesopotamians because the malting process helps to preserve the grains for longer, while fermentation increased the grains’ nutritional value.

Or, in the words of McMahon, “It’s what most people drink because the water is not so good.”

Of course, the mild buzz was a draw, too – even the Hymn to Ninkasi notes the wonderful feeling and blissful mood of drinking beer.

Without a fridge handy, the stuff wouldn’t have lasted very long. “Mesopotamians would have been brewing beer constantly,” Glatz says.

The question on everyone’s minds, of course, is how the beer tasted. Perruchini and more of Glatz’s students are attempting to find out by brewing beer using techniques described in the Hymn to Ninkasi and ingredients which they think would lead to residues similar to those they’ve found at Khani Masi.

The trouble is, there were a number of types of beer described in old Mesopotamian texts, whether golden, red or dark ales, and Perruchini and her colleagues are uncertain of all the ingredients. Unlike other researchers who recently tried to reproduce 4,000-year old Hittite beer with tasty results, Perruchini says that they have not even tasted the stuff they brewed in their class yet.

“It smells so terrible,” she says

 

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Original article:

Sciencenordic.com
By: Rasmus Kragh Jakobsen

A new study shows that the Mesopotamian farmers during a food crisis did not try to farm their land more intensively, but converted more land to arable land. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Ancient grain from the Middle East has given scientists an insight into how some of the world’s first cities developed.
Small, charred remains of grain that are at least 8,500 years old provide a fingerprint of ancient farming and how villages suddenly expanded over the course of a few hundred years into the large city states in ancient Mesopotamia—a historical area in present-day Syria and Iraq.
The grain can now reveal that as cities expanded and the need for food grew, so did the land dedicated to growing crops.
“It’s very exciting because until now the theory was that as the towns grew, they cultivated the land more intensively,” says archaeobotanist Mette Marie Hald from the National Museum of Denmark, who participated in the study.
“The study gives us an indirect indication of the political control of cities and how we imagine cities were established,” she says.
New knowledge on early city life
Arable farming made the cultivatable land valuable, and when land was inherited it could have laid the ground for a ruling elite of farmers and the beginnings of social inequality.
“It’s exciting and groundbreaking research, and the study strikes to the heart of many years of debate surrounding the economy and organisation of the early city societies,” says Tim Skuldbøl, archaeologist from the University of Copenhagen who also studies early urbanism but did not take part in the new study.
“Today, most people live in a city but don’t understand how they came about and why cities are organised the way they are. This archaeological research is important to understand the basic sociological building blocks that helped to form our urban societies today,” says Skuldbøl.
The study is published in the scientific journal, Nature Plants.
Villages shot up as settlement mounds
In the Khabur Valley in Northeast Syria, runs one of history’s most important rivers, the Euphrates. Together with the Tigris River, they define the region of Mesopotamia—which also means land between the rivers—where the world’s first civilisations emerged.
In the valley, archaeologists have found several ancient cities. One of them is Tell Brak, which was described by British archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan in the 1930s.
At first glance, Tell Brak looks like a small hill, but preserved under the surface are houses built upon houses.
“They have torn down houses and built on top of the old foundations, so the occupation level has risen over thousands of years. Now, it’s 40 to 60 metres high and like a small mountain,” says Hald.
Food for 30,000 inhabitants
Among the remains, archaeologists have discovered temples, large administrative buildings, and even long sewage pipes. But how the city grew to be so big, was still a mystery.
Eight thousand years ago, arable farming was just beginning with grain fields of wheat and barley. At this time, animals, such as cows, goats, and sheep, were domesticated.
At this time, people lived in villages of perhaps 100 to 200 people, and then suddenly, some 6,000 years ago, over a period of a few centuries, these villages grew to cities of more than 10,000 inhabitants.
The development of arable farming, which provided food for all these people, is a key piece of the puzzle to understand how these cities grew so quickly.
Atomic physics meets archaeology
In recent years, archaeologists have obtained a new peep-hole that allows them to see back in time. Amazingly enough, packets of information have survived 8,000 years in the form of grain from burned down houses.
“It’s a bit mean, but when a house burns down, we archaeologists are really happy because then grains are burnt and don’t rot. They can lie in the earth for thousands of years,” says Hald.
Most of us think of fire as a frightful, destructive power, but grain is strong enough to survive and save its secrets.

Every little grain records a piece of history of the conditions under which it was cultivated, in the form of stable isotopes of nitrogen and carbon.
Two routes to large towns
The scientists measured isotopes in 276 samples of grain discovered in Tell Brak and four other ancient cities in the northern region of Mesopotamia, dating to between 8,000 and 4,000 years ago: Tell Leilan, Tell Sabi Abyad, Tell Zeidan, and Hamoukar.
They compared the analysis with modern samples from test fields in France, Spain, Morocco, and Denmark, where old varieties of grain are grown under controlled conditions with manuring and irrigation.
Together with the knowledge of ancient climate, scientists can estimate very precisely how much or how little manure or irrigation was used. By comparing this with the archaeological layer which the samples came from, they could follow the development of agricultural practices through time.
The bigger the cities became, the less manure they used, which is surprising as further south in Iraq, they used widespread irrigation and farmed the land very intensively.
But now they know that practices to the north were very different, which means that there were at least two ways in which cities could expand.
Farmers made their own choices about their grain
The differences are probably closely related to the climate: Not enough rain in the dry south requiring irrigation versus the wetter northern region requiring less work-intensive input, where food output was boosted by converting more of the landscape to fields.
The grains also held clues of the socio-economic system of the time, revealing who held power in these early cities.
“It’s interesting that we find large pots filled with different crops in private homes, and from the isotope values we can see that they had very different manuring levels, so they must have come from different fields,” says Hald.
“It shows us that individual households had different fields around the town, where some were manured and others weren’t,” she says.
In other words, the grain suggests that there was no centralised arable economy, but that each farmer made their own choices.
Large farmers had power
If a king or nobleman controlled the fields, then all of the harvest would probably be collected centrally and then distributed. In this case, archaeologists might expect to see more consistent isotope values in the grain found in various households.
“Later, we see massive grain stores, where the crops must have come in from all the fields and stored in these large rooms, and distributed among the population,” says Hald.
“So what we see here is an indirect indication of how a town became controlled, and it doesn’t look like there was a strong centralised power at this time, and the society—at least agriculturally speaking—is still rather egalitarian,” she says.
In later deposits, the archaeologists found remains of temples, large storerooms, and administrative buildings, which suggests a central power had developed from the early agribusiness.
So it appears that the development began with a collective of important farmers.
“The extensive agriculture paved the way for some powerful families. You can say roughly that instead of a central royal power, in terms of economy, these cities may have been controlled by a team of large families,” says Hald.

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Topic: Ancient trading route

SAAR, Bahrain — More than 4,000 years ago, Dilmun merchants traveled from Mesopotamia to the Indus River, titans of trade and culture before rise of the empires of the Persians or the Ottomans

Over a millennia, the civilization that Dilmun created on the back of trading in pearls, copper and dates as far as South Asia faded into the encroaching sands. It wasn’t until an excavation by Danish archaeologists in the 1950s that its past was rediscovered.

Now, with Bahrain in a deepening political crisis between its Sunni rulers and majority Shiite population, the connection to ancient Dilmun is one of the few unifying symbols on the island. It also is a rare and vivid look at pre-Islamic life in a region with few sites celebrating cultures before the time of the Prophet Muhammad.

A distinguishing feature of Dilmun civilization was extensive burial mounds, which are still visible today — but under threat.

In the ancient settlement of Saar, about 10 kilometers (six miles) southwest of Bahrain’s capital, Manama, archaeologist and researcher Abdul Aziz Suwalih worries about modern developments that have chipped away at the honeycomb-patterned burial mounds. The mounds have been proposed as a UNESCO World Heritage site to join Bahrain’s ancient Dilmun harbor on the list.

“Bahrain was famous for holding the largest cemetery in the world by having more than 100,000 burial mounds. Now we have around 60,000 burial mounds. There are threats,” Suwalih told The Associated Press. “Protecting the archaeological sites in Bahrain is a big issue.”

In May, Bahrain hosted a conference by UNESCO — the U.N.’s educational, scientific and cultural body — that included discussions about preserving the burial mounds and other remnants of Dilmun civilization, as well as prospects for future digs and explorations.

The Saar settlement was excavated between 1990 and 1999 by the London-Bahrain Archaeological Expedition, though more work remains.
“It is the only Dilmun settlement that has been extensively investigated by archaeologists,” Suwalih said.

Original article:
washingtonpost
August 2, 2013
By the associated press

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Topic: Sumerian Beer

(Great Lakes Brewing Co.)CLEVELAND, OHIO—Brewers at the craft beer maker Great Lakes Brewing Company are working with archaeologists at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute to demystify and recreate the recipe behind a 5,000-year-old Sumerian beer. The best clues for how the brew’s ingredients and cooking method, which was performed using just clay pots and a wooden spoon, come from a poem written to the Sumerian goddess of beer titled the Hymn to Ninkasi. In addition to deciphering the methodology from cuneiform, the University of Chicago team has given the Great Lakes brewers ceramics modeled on ones taken from a 1930s excavation of a site in Iraq. The brew, when finished, won’t be for public consumption.

Original article:
archaeology.org
June 21, 2013

The above was a synopsis of an article published by the New York Times. Below is the full article:

For Its Latest Beer, a Craft Brewer Chooses an Unlikely Pairing: Archaeology

By contemporary standards, it would have been a spoiled batch here at Great Lakes Brewing Company, a craft beer maker based in Ohio, where machinery churns out bottle after bottle of dark porters and pale ales.

But lately, Great Lakes has been trying to imitate a bygone era. Enlisting the help of archaeologists at the University of Chicago, the company has been trying for more than year to replicate a 5,000-year-old Sumerian beer using only clay vessels and a wooden spoon.

“How can you be in this business and not want to know from where your forefathers came with their formulas and their technology?” said Pat Conway, a co-owner of the company.

As interest in artisan beer has expanded across the country, so have collaborations between scholars of ancient drink and independent brewers willing to help them resurrect lost recipes for some of the oldest ales ever made.

“It involves a huge amount of detective work and inference and pulling in information from other sources to try and figure it out,” said Gil Stein, the director of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, which is ensuring the historical accuracy of the project. “We recognize that to get at really understanding these different aspects of the past, you have to work with people who know things that we don’t.”

There is an unresolved argument in academic circles about whether the invention of beer was the primary reason that people in Mesopotamia, considered the birthplace of Western civilization about 10,000 years ago, first became agriculturalists.

By about 3200 B.C., around the time the Sumerians invented the written word, beer had already held a significant role in the region’s customs and myths. Sipped through a straw by all classes of society, it is also believed to have been a source of drinkable water and essential nutrients, brewed in both palaces and in average homes. During the rule of King Hammurabi, tavern owners were threatened with drowning if they dared to overcharge.

But for all the notes that Sumerians took about the ingredients and the distribution of their libations, no precise recipes have ever been found. Left behind were only cuneiform texts that vaguely hint at the brewing process, perhaps none more poetically than the Hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer.

The song, dated around 1800 B.C., had entranced modern brewers before. A brew based on the hymn was made as part of a partnership in the early 1990s between Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco and the University of Chicago, where a well-known interpretation of the text was translated in 1964.

Reproductions of ancient alcohols have since grown in popularity, largely through a partnership between the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Delaware and Patrick E. McGovern, an archaeological chemist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Together, they have recreated beers from prehistoric China, from ancient Egypt and from evidence found in what is believed to be the tomb of King Midas.

“Of different people who do fermented beverages, microbrewers are the most willing to experiment,” Dr. McGovern said. “They’re ready to try anything.”

Great Lakes has no plan to sell its brew, also based on the Hymn to Ninkasi, to the public. The project, unlike others that recreate old recipes on modern equipment, is an educational exercise more than anything else. It has been shaped by a volley of e-mails with Sumerian experts in Chicago as both sides try to better understand an “off the grid” approach that has proved more difficult than first thought.

In place of stainless steel tanks, the Oriental Institute gave the brewery ceramic vessels modeled after artifacts excavated in Iraq during the 1930s. In keeping with the archaeological evidence, the team successfully malted its own barley on the roof of the brew house. It also asked a Cleveland baker to help make a bricklike “beer bread” for use as a source of active yeast — by far the most difficult step in the process.

The archaeologists, who have committed their careers to studying Sumerian culture, said having professional brewers involved in the effort had helped them ask questions they had not considered.

“We keep going back to the evidence and finding new hints that can help us choose between different interpretations,” said Tate Paulette, a doctoral student and a lead researcher on the project. “We are immersed in studying Mesopotamia, and this is a fundamental thing that we don’t understand well enough.”

While the project continues, Great Lakes’ brewing vessels are already a popular addition to guided tours of the brewery. The company is making plans to showcase its Sumerian beer at events in Cleveland and Chicago by the end of this summer, offering a public tasting of the final brew alongside an identical recipe made with more current brewing techniques.

In the meantime, there is still some tweaking to do.

After months of experiments in the brewery’s laboratory, Nate Gibbon, a brewer at Great Lakes, said he had stood over a ceramic vat on a recent Wednesday, cooking outside on a patch of grass. The fire that heated the vat was fueled by manure.

The batch, spiced with cardamom and coriander, fermented for two days, but it was ultimately too sour for the modern tongue, Mr. Gibbon said. Next time, he will sweeten it with honey or dates.

Without sophisticated cleaning systems to rid the vessels of natural bacteria, Mesopotamian imbibers might have been more familiar with the brew’s unwanted vinegar flavor, archaeologists said. Yet even with the most educated guesswork, they said, the Sumerian palate might never be fully uncovered.“We’re working with questions that are not going to have a final answer,” Mr. Paulette said. “It’s just back and forth, trying to move toward a better understanding. We’re pretty comfortable with that.”
New York Times
By STEVEN YACCINO
Published: June 17, 2013

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Topic: Ancient trading center

Excavations at an archaeological site in Bahrain are shedding light on one of the oldest trading civilisations.

Despite its antiquity, comparatively little is known about the advanced culture represented at Saar.

The site in Bahrain, thought to be the location of the enigmatic Dilmun civilisation, was recently discussed at a conference in Manama, the Gulf nation’s capital, organised by the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural body (Unesco).

The meeting was devoted to wide-ranging debate on heritage tourism; Bahrain is a Unesco regional headquarters and one of its key attractions is an abundance of ancient sites.

At Saar (named after the closest modern village), with the scorching sun rising ever higher in the sky, a Bahraini archaeologist patiently explained to a group of workers how to re-point a low wall in a state of near collapse.

This meticulous maintenance of the archaeological settlement marks a turning point in the way Bahraini specialists are dealing with the vast store of historical remains on the island.

According to Salman al-Mahari, the Bahraini archaeologist in charge, the Saar settlement divides into two: a residential zone and, at a small distance, the cemetery where the inhabitants buried their dead.

Archaeologists have uncovered a cemetery some distance from Saar’s residential zone
“This site has provided a lot of information about daily life,” he explains. “This has enabled us to compare finds made here with objects unearthed at other locations on the island. It is evident that this city and graveyard date back to the early Dilmun period.”

Dilmun, one of most important ancient civilisations of the region and said to date to the third millennium BC, was a hub on a major trading route between Mesopotamia – the world’s oldest civilisation – and the Indus Valley in South Asia.

It is also believed that Dilmun had commercial ties with ancient sites at Elam in Oman, Alba in Syria and Haittan in Turkey.

As Salman al-Mahari confirms, the team is now preserving what has been found to ensure that the historical findings are made accessible.

“For 4,000 years this site was underground so it was sheltered,” he says. “Now after excavation, it is exposed to the elements. We have no immediate plans to carry out further excavations. We want to protect the site and to interpret what we have unearthed for visitors.”

The Saar site is far from being the most significant relic of the Dilmun era. On the northern tip of the island, archaeological expeditions have uncovered seven successive levels of settlements at the Qal’at al Bahrain (the fort of Bahrain). Under the oldest and most extensive fort, three consecutive Dilmun cities as well as a Greek city dating back to 200 BC have been unearthed.

The site is impressive: the outer walls enclose an area of several hundred square metres. At its centre lie massive carved stones marking the entrance and walls of a chamber containing an altar once flanked by copper-faced pillars.

The Dilmun civilisation was a trading link between the Middle East and South Asia
Next to it is another structure where the presence of blackened animal bones and charred earth suggest a chamber for sacrifices to the gods.

On the other side of the central altar, a flight of carved steps leads down to a pool, a deep, stone-walled well built over one of the numerous underground springs where one of three principal Sumerian deities – Enki, the water-dwelling god of wisdom – supposedly lived.

The abundance of sweet water flowing from springs which still supply the island with much of its drinking water was one of the cornerstones of Dilmun. The island was an oasis of fertility in ancient times in a mainly desolate region. This could have given rise to a legend that Bahrain may even have been the biblical Garden of Eden.

But as Abdullah Hassan Yehia, the keeper of the Qal’at al Bahrain, explains, the fertile nature of the island encouraged more than just agriculture (Dilmun was famed for its vegetable production). There is strong evidence of religious practices and beliefs that can be compared with those in other advanced societies of the time.

“The belief system here has a lot in common with those of Mesopotamia and ancient Egypt,” he says. “Belief in the after-life is shown by burying the dead with possessions such as tools, food, drinking vessels and gold. We’ve even found weapons.”

Abdullah Hassan Yehia also explains that the Dilmun merchants had a monopoly of trade in copper, a precious commodity which was shipped from the mines of Oman to the cities of Mesopotamia. But he debunks the theory that Bahrain may have been used by prehistoric inhabitants of the Arabian mainland as a cemetery.

The fort overlies three consecutive Dilmun cities
The island has approximately 170,000 burial mounds covering an area of 30 square kilometres or 5% of the main island area.

The majority of the burial grounds date back to the second and third centuries BC but some are as recent as 2,000 years old. The oldest and largest burial mounds, referred to as the “Royal Tombs”, are found at Aali and measure up to 15m in height and 45m in diameter.

Archaeologist Salman Al-Mahari agrees: “There were a number of large population centres on the island. We have calculated that there would have been a significant number of deaths of both adults and children who would have been buried here,” he says.

This sort of debate is exactly what Khalifa Ahmed Al Khalifa, assistant director of programmes at the Arab regional Centre for World Heritage is keen to encourage.

Khalifa Ahmed al-Khalifa from the Arab Regional Centre for World Heritage explains why it is time to make the “extraordinary artefacts” available to the public

“There has been a lot of academic work carried out over the past decades,” he recaps. “The idea is to simplify and interpret all this academic information so that local people and international visitors can grasp the importance of our heritage.”

Using Saar as an example, he continues. “It includes houses, restaurants, commercial outlets, a cemetery and a place of worship. These are all part of a modern city.”

“One of the characteristics of Saar are its honeycomb-shaped burial complexes. This is the sort of thing that people find fascinating,” he adds. “As long as it is presented in an easily digestible way.”

While academic research continues into life 4,000 years ago in Dilmun, with an emphasis on trade, diet, gods, pottery and other industries as well as local burial customs, there is now a focus on making everything interesting to the layperson.

“It’s quite a challenge that we’re facing,” says Khalifa Ahmed al-Khalif. “But with the help of new technology we’ll be able to place Bahrain on the [ancient] global map.”

Original article:
BBC.co.uk
By By Sylvia Smith
BBC News, Manama, Bahrain
May 20, 2013

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Topic:Ancient Beer?

This is an archaic writing tablet from Mesopotamia (approx. 3000 B.C.): The tablet which contains proto-cuneiform writing, belongs to the most ancient group of written records on earth. It contains calculations of basic ingredients required for the production of cereal products, for example, different types of beer. Credit: M. Nissen, 1990

Archaeological finds from cuneiform tablets and remnants of different vessels from over 4,000 years ago show that even around the dawn of civilisation, fermented cereal juice was highly enjoyed by Mesopotamia’s inhabitants. However, besides the two basic ingredients, barley and emmer (a species of wheat) the brew produced in the clay jars of the Sumerians is shrouded in mystery. Despite an abundance of finds and scribal traditions which point to an early love of fermented cereal beverages, reconstructing ancient brewing methods is very difficult, according to the historian of science and cuneiform writing scholar Peter Damerow of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. A scholarly paper by Damerow, who passed away at the end of November 2011 in Berlin, carefully examines the beer brewing technologies of the Sumerians. However, the author also expresses great doubts as to whether the popular brew in ancient times was even beer.

Note:

I noticed an error in the paragraph below: malt is not an ingredient it is a process. The text should say malted barly( or emmer) not emmer, barly, and malt!

Although many of the more than 4,000 years old cuneiform texts contain records of deliveries of emmer, barley and malt to , as well as documentation of the activities, there is hardly any information on the details of the production processes, and no recipes to follow. According to Damerow, the administrative texts were most likely written for an audience that was already familiar with the details of brewing. They were not intended for informing the modern-day reader about the processes.

Moreover, the methods used for recording this information differ between locations and time periods. Also, the records and calculations are not based on any consistent number system. Instead, the Sumerian bureaucrats used different number systems depending on the nature of the objects to be counted or measured to count or measure.

This has cast doubt on the popular theory that Mesopotamian brewers used to crumble flat bread made from barley or emmer into their mash. The so-called “bappir” (Sumerian for “beer bread”) is never counted as bread in the administrative texts, but in measuring units, like coarsely ground barley. Damerow also points out that the high degree of standardisation, which meant that the quantities of raw materials allocated to the brewers by the central administration remained exactly the same over long periods, sometimes even decades, makes it difficult to base any recipes on them.

According to Damerow, even the “Hymn of Ninkasi”, one of the most significant sources on the ancient art of brewing, does not provide any reliable information about the constituents and steps of the brewing process. This lyric text from the Old Babylonian period around 1800 B.C. is a mythological poem or song that glorifies the brewing of beer. Despite the elaborate versification, Damerow states that the procedure of brewing is not conclusively described. It merely offers an incomplete record of the individual steps. For instance, there is no clue as to how the germination of the grain was interrupted at the right time. It can only be speculated that the barley was layered and that the germination was stopped by heating and drying the grain as soon as the root embryo had the right size.

Furthermore, the content of the hymn does not quite fit the results of the Tall Bazi Experiment. This was a brewing experiment carried out by archaeologists from the Ludwig Maximilian Universität in Munich together with brewing experts from the Center of Life and Food Sciences Weihenstephan at the Technische Universität München, with the intention of reconstructing the ancient brewing processes. Using cold mashing, the archaeologists managed to produce a brew of and emmer and adjust the alcohol level by changing the percentage of water; however, in Damerow’s opinion, this result must also be treated with scepticism.

Nothing suggests that a production process that worked under the special conditions of Tall Bazi must have worked in the same way at other places in Mesopotamia, since the local conditions varied greatly. In fact, the experiment only demonstrates how modern methods can be used to produce a beer under the same conditions that were prevalent in Tall Bazi.

These uncertainties lead to a question, which the author considers “much more fundamental”: to which extent is it at all possible to compare ancient products with modern ones? “Given our limited knowledge about the Sumerian brewing processes, we cannot say for sure whether their end product even contained alcohol”, writes Damerow. There is no way of ascertaining whether the brew was not more similar to the bread drink kvass from Eastern Europe than to German Pilsner, Altbier or wheat beer.

Nevertheless, Damerow considers the approach of the scientists in the Tall Bazi Experiment to be a good way of finding the answers to questions about the early history of the art of brewing. “Such interdisciplinary research efforts might well lead to better interpretations of the ‘Hymn of Ninkasi’ than those currently accepted among specialists working on cuneiform literature”, writes Damerow.

Original Article:

physorg.com

Jan 17, 2012

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Topic: Original Fast food joint

About 5,200 years ago, a mud-brick oval enclosure was built at Godin Tepe. The main building (pictured here) had two windows that may have been used for “takeout.”

Some 5,200 years ago, in the mountains of western Iran, people may have used takeout windows to get food and weapons, newly presented research suggests.

But rather than the greasy hamburgers and fries, it appears the inhabitants of the site ordered up goat, grain and even bullets, among other items.

The find was made at Godin Tepe, an archaeological site that was excavated in the 1960s and 1970s by a team led by T. Cuyler Young Jr., a curator at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Canada, who died in 2006.

A team of researchers took up his work after he died and recently published the results of the excavation, along with more recent research on the artifacts, in the book “On the High Road: The History of Godin Tepe” (Hilary Gopnik and Mitchell Rothman, Mazda Publishers, 2011).  In addition a symposium was held recently where the takeout windows, among other research finds at Godin Tepe, were discussed.

The idea that they were used as takeout windows was first proposed by Cuyler Young and is based mainly on their height and location beside the central courtyard.

The windows could have been used by ordinary individuals or perhaps by soldiers “driving through” to grab some food, or even weapons. [See images of the ancient takeout windows]

Odd windows

The research shows that Godin Tepe started out, in prehistoric times, as a simple settlement. “For about 1,000 years the mound of Godin was occupied by a small village of farmers and shepherds,” said Hilary Gopnik of Emory University, at a recent symposium at the Royal Ontario Museum.

That changed quickly. “Sometime in about 3,200 B.C. somebody razed those houses and built this oval enclosure,” Gopnik said. The mud-brick structure had a central courtyard surrounded by buildings, including one particularly prominent structure with two windows.

“The windows and the walls of the main building are very unusual for architecture of this period, and they’ve been interpreted as a kind of takeout window,” Gopnik said.

Inside the building, researchers discovered beveled-rimmed bowls (a pot type found throughout the Middle East), food remains, a fireplace and 1,759 sun-dried clay sling bullets, a weapon used for warfareand hunting. Clay tablets were also found within the structure.

“As far as I know, that is the only example of those odd, framing windows. We don’t usually find windows at all,” in the Middle East, Gopnik told LiveScience.

Clemens Reichel, a curator at the museum, said that while archaeologists do find openings that may have been air vents or cubby holes, windows are rare and are hard to identify.

“Dr. Gopnik is completely right in stating that attested windows in mud-brick architecture are rare. But it takes an experienced archaeologist to recognize an opening in a mud-brick wall — you have to be able to see the difference between mud-brick and compacted debris in such a cavity, and that can be very difficult,” Reichel told LiveScience in an email.

If these windows were used for takeout, what exactly was served?

A wide variety of food remains have been found at Godin Tepe. “There [were] lentils, there was goat bone, sheep bone, there was also beer and wine,” Gopnik said. “We think those beveled-rimmed bowls were used for rations of grain.”

As for a “drive-thru” spirits store, Gopnik said, “people have suggested that maybe they were delivering rations of beer, [but] that seems a little far-fetched.”

The sling bullets, found in the building, may have been stockpiled near the end of the oval compound’s life, possibly for distribution through the windows. “The compound was abandoned and partially burned in about 3,000 B.C. But whether this was purposeful or a peaceful abandonment remains a mystery,” Gopnik said. [Read: History’s Most Overlooked Mysteries]

While Gopnik argues that everyday Joes may have frequented this takeout joint, Virginia Badler, a doctoral student of Young’s, suggests soldiers were the main patrons. As such, the oval compound may have been used to protect trade routes in the area, according to Badler, who contributed to the new book. Sitting on a high mound as it is, “you would have had quite a panoramic view,” Badler told LiveScience.

Badler discussed several arguments supporting a military function for Godin Tepe, including the small, enclosed nature of the oval, which would have made it easier to protect the compound and see who was coming inside. Also, Mesopotamian rulers had problems protecting trade caravans at the time, and weapons, including a spear point, mace head and sling bullets, were found at Godin. “I have no doubt it’s a fort,” she said, “they wanted to funnel goods to the lowlands.”

She said that when ancient military sites were abandoned in Mesopotamia, clay sling bullets were often left behind. She also suggested that the beveled-rim bowls found there may have been used for water rations rather than grain.

“There’s no reason to have that beveling except that it’s a wonderful place to put your lip when you drink out of it,” Badler said, adding that she tried drinking out of one of these bowls. “I covered it with a very thin plastic bag, and I filled it with water,” she said. “What the beveling does is it makes a very thin edge — it was extremely easy to drink out of the bowl.”

A few of the bowls were also lined with bitumen, a substance used for waterproofing. “Why would you line a bowl that had grain in it, or porridge, with bitumen?”

The windows, in the scenario she proposes, would have been used to provision troops. “I think there was a local army queued up,” she said. “I think they were giving out the weapons over here, and (at) the other window maybe they were giving out water and food.”

So the compound would have served as a takeout place, though the food and bullets would have been provided to soldiers on their way to fight. “Here’s your bread, here’s your water, your rations for the day, and here’s your (weapons), so get the marauders,” Badler said.

The work was also described at a symposium held by the Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies. Artifacts from the site are now part of an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum.

Original article:

livescience.com

By Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor

Date: 28 October 2011

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