Ancient History of Beer, Part 3: Sumerian Happy Hour

By: The Scribe on Wednesday, February 27, 2013



Part 2 of this series introduced Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer, and the hymn of praise dedicated to her. But when was this hymn written, and what relevance did beer actually have in the everyday life of the Sumerians?

It’s thought that the hymn was written around 1800 BC, though it may be much older—brewing evidence dates as far back as 3500/3100 BC at a Sumerian settlement called Godin Tepe, which is one of the locations where archaeologists found chemical traces of beer inside pieces of a broken pottery jar (as mentioned in Part 1).

Godin Tepe was an important stop for trade along the Silk Road trade route, and another Sumerian city called Ebla is where many of the clay tablets containing administrative lists of beer-making ingredients were found. The tablets date from 2500 BC, and show that Ebla was brewing a hearty selection of beers at its height. They used fresh water and boiled it, making beer a healthier (and safer) drink than water, which could be contaminated by animal or human waste.

Because it contained plenty of nutrients, every indication is given in the tablets that beer was a staple of the Sumerian diet—even laborers were given beer as part of their rations when on the job, and was consumed with… a straw.

Yes, a straw. While that may be a ludicrous concept to the modern beer-drinker, this Babylonian invention helped the beer drinker to avoid ending up with the bitter brewing residue in his mouth. These straws were made of metal, bronze, or gold, and were rather long—one on display at the Oriental Institute Museum in Chicago is around 40” long.

And while this ancient beer was traditionally brewed by women on a daily basis in the home, it didn’t take long for beer to turn commercial—a tablet from 2050 BC called The Alulu Tablet (Ur) contains an ancient receipt for beer delivery by the brewer named Alulu.







 

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