Sumerian tavern with food found in Iraq

The remains of a 4,700-year-old tavern complete with storage vessels still containing food have been discovered at the archaeological site of Lavash in southern Iraq.

Founded in the 3rd millennium B.C. near the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates, Lagash was one of the first urban centers in the ancient Near East. The city was ruled by independent kings in the Early Dynastic period until it was conquered by Sargon the Great of Akkad in the 24th-23rd century B.C. Sargon’s son Rimush laid waste to Lagash when it rebelled against Akkadian rule. According to the detailed records he left behind, he killed 8049 people in Ur and Lagash.

The city-state resumed independent rulership in the 21st century B.C. and eclipsed its pre-Akkadian greatness, reaching its greatest extent around 2075-2030 B.C. It was the one the largest cities in the world, and may have even been the largest. It began to fade in importance in the Old Babylonian period (1894 – 1595 B.C.) and there are no further historical references to it until the Seleucid Persian era in the 2nd century B.C.

Today it is one of the largest archaeological sites in Mesopotamia. Archaeologists have been excavating the site since 2019. The 2022 season focused on a non-elite neighborhood of the Early Dynastic period (2900-2300 B.C.).

The joint team from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pisa discovered the remains of a primitive refrigeration system, a large oven, benches for diners and around 150 serving bowls.

Fish and animal bones were found in the bowls, alongside evidence of beer drinking, which was widespread among the Sumerians.

“So we’ve got the refrigerator, we’ve got the hundreds of vessels ready to be served, benches where people would sit… and behind the refrigerator is an oven that would have been used… for cooking food,” project director Holly Pittman told AFP.

“What we understand this thing to be is a place where people—regular people—could come to eat and that is not domestic,” she said.

“We call it a tavern because beer is by far the most common drink, even more than water, for the Sumerians”, she said, noting that in one of the temples excavated in the area “there was a beer recipe that was found on a cuneiform tablet”.

Samples taken from the vessels are currently undergoing analysis.

“There is so much that we do not know about this early period of the emergence of cities and that is what we are investigating,” she said.

“We hope to be able to characterise the neighbourhoods and the kinds of occupation… of the people that lived in this big city who were not the elite,” she added.