Biblical Archaeology Review 44:5, September/October 2018

Strata: BAR Test Kitchen: Ancient Syrian Date Pastries

There’s no denying that I have a sweet tooth. Whether I am at home or abroad, I am always in search of desserts. From croissants to baklava, I’ve sampled many delicious dishes—but never before one from Bronze Age Syria.

For this dish, I journeyed back in time—to an ancient recipe from the site of Mari, Syria (c. 1775–1761 B.C.E.), and also back into the BAS Library to an article written by scholar Adam Maskevich.a With a love for both the ancient Near East and cooking, Maskevich undertook some experimental archaeology. Using the work of the late Assyriologist Jean Bottéro, who translated numerous Babylonian recipes, Maskevich created a recipe for mersu, an ancient type of “cake” that involved mixing flour with a liquid (water, milk, oil, beer, or even butter).1 Various inclusions (dates, pistachios, figs, raisins, and spices, such as cumin and coriander) were sometimes added. An exact recipe for mersu doesn’t exist, but archaeologists have been able to reconstruct it indirectly from administrative sources, such as the delivery notice from Mari during the reign of King Zimri-Lim:

Join the BAS Library!

Already a library member? Log in here.

Institution user? Log in with your IP address.