Sunday, March 02, 2008

How Old is Beer?

A little while back I said that once I got a few minutes I would tell you about my extracurricular field trip to the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. My dad had suggested we check it out because he and my mom had gone before and found it to be very cool. More or less, the O.I. is one of the best collections of fertile crescent, ancient Sumerian, Egyptian, Middle East, etc, artifacts in the US and I would venture to say the world as well.

From their website:

The Foundation of the Institute

The University of Chicago has been a center of ancient Near Eastern studies ever since its founding in 1891. The first president of the university, William Rainey Harper, was a Professor of Semitic Languages and his brother, Robert Francis, was an Assyriologist. Both taught in the Department of Semitic Languages at the new university.

In 1896, the Department moved into the Haskell Oriental Museum where galleries devoted to the ancient Near East were established. Initially the collection was composed of a few plaster-cast reproductions and a small group of exhibition cases containing the little collection of antiquities. However, the collection grew rapidly as a result of both private donations and the university’s contributions to British field expeditions working in Egypt. In 1904, the University of Chicago Oriental Exploration Fund sent its first field expedition to Bismaya in Iraq. Two years later, an ambitious photographic and epigraphic survey of the temples in Nubia and Egypt was undertaken as a part of an overall project to publish all the ancient inscriptions in the Nile Valley.

I'll show you the photos I took and do my best to explain their significance. (click on any photo to see a larger version)

That blue, tarnished tube in the middle of the photo is a copper straw that was used to drink beer.

The two figures on the right are shown drinking beer out of a jug or pot through straws. The beer was unfiltered, unpasteurized, and unrefrigerated, so there would be stuff floating on top and trub on the bottom. In order to get to the good beer in the middle, you would drink out of the straw.

How little things change....

These are stamp seals that would be used to leave your personal imprint on an item for security purposes or to "sign" your name. This particular seal showed people drinking beer. Maybe it was from a bar owner.

A winged man-bull. Everyone should have one of these in their house.

These are ancient Egyptian figures showing the production of beer and bread.

This is pretty much the same process that we use today but our version is much cleaner, and Matt only occasionally brews naked.

So the long and the short of it is that beer is just about as old as civilization itself. These Egyptian artifacts are appx. four to five thousand years old. The Mesopotamian artifacts are even older. I would highly recommend visiting the museum, it's definitely one of the lesser known gems in the Chicago Museum stable.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the images and history lesson!

BrewerM said...

Hot wort is hot! Especially with no pants on.

Anonymous said...

Drinking beer from a pot through a straw is still practiced in East Africa

Anonymous said...

There is a great article on earl beer production/consumption in the journal titled Near Eastern Archaeology, Volume 64, no. 2, page 84 (2004). It's title is "Beer and its Drinkers: An Ancient Near Eastern Love Story."

Obama / Dekker All Stars said...

There is speculation that the fictional -- yet incredibly potent -- movie character "Indiana Jones" was based on real-life University of Chicago professor Robert Braidwood. It's just a tidbit to keep in the back of your mind when you visit the Oriental Institute.

Braidwood was involved in some of the Oriental Institute's early expeditions to the Amuq Valley between modern-day Syria and Iraq. He also discovered the Ark of the Covenant, but then hid it inside a giant government warehouse.

On a personal note to the blogger: The first time your Dad and Mom went to this museum, I met them for lunch at the Medici restaurant down the block. Your dad got a reasonably-priced "big" salad. I remember it well.

Also, why did you leave out the part about the 2-ton bull head Andrew? Why do you hate bulls?

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