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Biblical Archaeology Review 49:2, Summer 2023

Where Sumerians Know Your Name

Modern people are not the only ones who enjoy a nice drink after work or during a night out on the town. Indeed, 5,000 years ago, Sumerians in the ancient city of Lagash in southern Mesopotamia were doing exactly the same thing. While excavating the city, which is located about 200 miles southeast of Baghdad, archaeologists uncovered a public eating space dated to 2700 BCE, around the same time that the legendary Gilgamesh (see “Text Treasures: Gilgamesh: A Mesopotamian Story of Longing and Loss”) would have ruled in nearby Uruk. The discovery sheds light on not only ancient food culture but also the understudied middle class of Mesopotamian society.

Uncovered only inches below the surface, the Mesopotamian tavern featured a partial kitchen, an oven, an ancient “refrigerator,” and an open-air dining area filled with benches. The excavators also found around 150 serving dishes, some of which contained the remains of fish and animals served at the tavern, and evidence of beer, an important product in ancient Mesopotamia.

Although excavations in Iraq have historically focused on palaces, temples, and other monumental structures, the Lagash tavern represents the daily life of the middle class. Lagash was one of the oldest and largest cities in the Sumerian heartland of southern Mesopotamia during the third millennium BCE. Extending across nearly 2 square miles of marshland, the city was a major center of trade and production, with fertile agricultural land, plentiful fishing, and many other important resources.

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