The Origins and Ancient History of Wine

By Patrick E. McGovern; Stuart J. Fleming et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10

Searching for Wine in the Archaeological Record of Ancient Mesopotamia of the Third and Second Millennia B.C.

Richard L. Zettler and Naomi F. Miller

Southern Mesopotamia, an area variously dubbed the “cradle of civilization” and the “heartland of cities, ” was home to a beer-drinking culture, and the archaeological record reflects that fact. A wide array of evidence exists for beermaking and consumption by the peoples of ancient Sumer, Akkad, and Babylonia (Map 10.1, Table 10.1). A sherd from a pottery jar found at the site of Jemdet Nasr and dating to the late 4th or early 3rd millennium B.C., for example, has the signs for jar and beer inscribed on the neck. The jar would have had a capacity of 25-30 1 (Englund and Grégoire 1991:9). At Lagash, D.P. Hansen (1980-83) uncovered a brewery of the mid-3rd millennium B.C. The brewery included tanks for the making of beer-bread (Sumerian bappir), a mixture of dough and aromatic herbs, and a large oven in which, according to the hymn to the beer goddess, Ninkasi, the beer-bread would have been baked (Civil 1964:72). A silver jar and a gold drinking-tube, probably used for drinking beer, were found in the tomb of the lady Pu-abi in the Royal Cemetery of Ur (Katz and Voigt 1986: fig. 11). Depictions of beer-drinking, for example, at banquets and during sexual intercourse, are common on cylinder seals (Woolley 1934: pls. 193:17, 20; 194:22-26, 29, 33), as well as on clay plaques (Parrot 1959b: 75; Saggs 1962: pl. 51C).

No unequivocal archaeological evidence exists from southern Mesopotamian sites that is relevant to grape cultivation or wine production, shipment, storage, and drinking. At least until recent years, archaeologists working in southern Mesopotamia did not routinely try to recover archaeobotanical remains and, in any case, preservation is poor in the area's salty soils. Production and distribution sites have not been identified, either. Even the written documentation is scarce (see chapter 9 by Powell, this volume). In the nearly three thousand documents of the late 3rd

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