Ancient beer recipes found
A Syrian-Belgian-British archaeological mission unearthed 3,800-year-old Babylonian beer-making instructions on cuneiform tablets at a dig in northern Syria.
Abdel-Massih Baghdo, director of the Hassakeh Archaeological Department, told The Associated Press in a telephone call that the 92 tablets were found in the 14th layer of Tell Shagher, a site just north of Hassakeh. He said the tablets showed beer-making methods and tallied quantities of beer produced and distributed in the region."
Hassakeh, 400 miles northeast of Damascus, is known these days for its wheat production. Recent archaeological discoveries have pushed back the dates for early beer production.
Ancient figurine lifts horses' profile - 4,300-year-old horse figurine found at Tell Es-Sweyhat, Syria
While excavating an ancient Syrian city last September, archaeologists unearthed a 4,300-year-old clay figurine that stands as the oldest known sculpture of a domesticated horse, according to an announcement this week by the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute.
The discovery suggests that horses played a more important role in the rise of early civilizations than researchers have often assumed, contends Thomas Holland, an Oriental institute archaeologist. He directed the team that found the skillfully crafted figurine at Tell Es-Sweyhat, about 200 miles northeast of Damascus. Other evidence points to the domestication of horses in central Asia at least 6,000 years ago (SN: 6/2/90, p.340).
The meaning of the horse sculpture to its makers and the predominant function of horses in their culture remain unclear, asserts anthropologist Juris Zarins of Southwest Missouri State University in Springfield. Zarins did not participate in the dig, but he has examined the equine find. "This is without a doubt the best early example of a domesticated horse sculpture," Zarins maintains. Holland and his associates place the manufacture of the 5-inch-long, 3-inch-high figurine at about 2300 B.C., based on carbon-14 dates and pottery styles at Tell Es-Sweyhat.
Two signs of domestication appear on the pale-green sculpture, Zarins says. A hole bored through the muzzle may represent the position of a bit to hold reins or a nose ring for leading the horse by hand. And the mane, formed by strips of molded clay, lies flat in a manner unique to domesticated horses, he maintains. The figurine's long, full tail distinguishes it from donkeys, which were domesticated in the Middle East around 3500 B.C., Zarins notes.
Modeled as a stallion with enlarged genitals, the sculpture may have been used in ceremonies to ensure the fertility of horses, much as full-bodied female figurines found at the same site appear to have been intended to promote healthy human births, Holland suggests. Holland and Zarins agree that residents of the site probably concentrated on breeding horses with donkeys to produce mules, which kings and other royal officials considered most desirable for pulling chariots. Horses also may have pulled chariots, the scientists hold. Investigators found several model chariots at Tell Es-Sweyhat last year.
Other finds included a complex of public buildings with wall paintings, bronze tongs, and one-handled storage jars nearly identical to a third-millennium B.C. jar found on Cyprus. This indicates that the ancient city, located in Mesopotamia, traded with Mediterranean peoples, Holland says. Tell Es-Sweyhat may be either of two cities mentioned in cuneiform writings from the nearby Ebla empire, he notes. The site served as a key trading post between Ebla to the west and the Akkad Empire to the east. Previous excavations suggest the city was destroyed around 2200 B.C. by Akkadian warriors.
Oldest brewery is excavated in Syria
Archaeologists from the University of Chicago have found the remains of a 5,500-year-old Syrian city that is at least as old as the cities of Mesopotamia, 400 miles south. The city featured massive defensive walls, a commercial-scale bakery and the world's oldest known brewery. Many buildings contained large domed ovens, each one large enough to bake bread for tens or hundreds of people. Other ovens were used for cooking beat, and some were apparently used to char grain for a brewery.
Large vats near these ovens contained the remains of barley. "They were almost certainly a beer-drinking people," said Professor McGuire Gibson of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute. The new city was found within a massive mound about five miles from the Iraqi border, called Tell Hamoukar. According to the archaeologists, a small village of mud brick houses currently sits on one of the slopes, a cemetery is one the crest, and the surface of the area is littered with shards of ancient pottery exposed by water run-off. Although the first permanent settlements in the Middle East may have developed around 9000 B.C., these were villages without urban amenities like city walls, communal food production, breweries and bureaucracy.
The lower levels of the newly-found city show a large settlement dating to 4000 B.C., with habitation spreading to cover 500 acres. The city center was 30-acres, enclosed within a defensive wall. The city may have been conquered by the Mesopotamians around 3400 B.C., according to pottery evidence. It seems to have ceased to exist a few hundred years later.
Neandertal Hunters Get to the Point -
excavation in Syria seems to indicate that Neandertals made use of stone spear points
On the slope of a desert plateau in Syria, excavations have uncovered what seems to qualify as an archaeological smoking gun confirming the manufacture and use of spear points by Neandertals. The evidence for this controversial proposition consists of an inch-long piece of a sharpened, triangular, stone point embedded in a neck bone of a wild ass, an extinct ancestor of donkeys. When intact, the point had extended an estimated 2 1/2 inches and was attached to a shaft or a handle, according to a scientific team led by Eric Boeda of the University of Paris X in Nanterre.
As a Neandertal thrust the spear into the ancient creature's neck, both the point's tip and its base broke off, the researchers assert. Initial measurements of radioactive decay in soil at the Syrian site yield an estimated age of more than 50,000 years for the new find. Stone points, ranging in size from less than 1 inch to several inches long, have turned up at many Neandertal sites located in Europe and the Middle East. However, ambiguous evidence for the points' use in hunting had led some researchers to theorize that Neandertals obtained meat primarily by scavenging carnivore leftovers. In this view, they may have used the stone points for cutting carcasses abandoned by the predators.
Human ancestors preceding the Neandertals hunted with wooden spears (SN: 3/1/97, p. 134). Stone points added a deadly edge. "Regardless of whether this weapon was thrown or simply hand-held, it would have been much more efficient and lethal than a simple wooden thrusting spear," Boeda's group concludes in the June Antiquity. The researchers excavated the Syrian site, Umm el Tlel, from 1991 through 1998. In the latest field season, they discovered the partial spear point poking into the cavity of the horse-like creature's neck bone.
Only a forceful thrust--which severed the stone's tip as it penetrated the animal's flesh and broke off its base once the point poked through the bone--could have wedged the weapon into that position, the team holds. A strong, uneven force produced scarring on the base and sides of the stone artifact, indicating that it was bound to a shaft or handle, they say. Neandertals probably stabbed the animal as it stood, Boeda and his coworkers theorize. Penetration of the spear point into the spinal cord would have caused immediate, irreversible limb paralysis. If the ass had been lying down because of injury or illness, the hunters would have stabbed it in the rib cage rather than the neck.
The extent to which Neandertals used sharpened, triangular stones as spear points remains unknown. John J. Shea of the State University of New York at Stony Brook suspects, however, that the razor-edged stones often served as spear points. Shea argues that both ancient Homo sapiens and Neandertals living in the Middle East killed wild horses and goats with stone-tipped spears (SN: 8/1/98, p. 72).
"You don't get much better evidence for hunting with spears than the new Syrian discovery," Shea comments. In an article that they have submitted for publication, Shea and his colleagues report that stone spear points they fashioned Neandertal-style easily penetrate the rib cages of goat carcasses. "These stones are effective spear points," Shea argues.
Millenniums of Beer & Brewing
Archaeologists excavating a mysterious mound in Syria have uncovered what may be humankind's oldest city, a habitation dating back over 5,500 years. The city at Tell Hamoukar is as old as those of Mesopotamia, and may be even older. Within the walls they have found remnants of an active communal baking industry, with myriad dome-shaped bread ovens. Not surprisingly, they also found a brewery, where these ancient people brewed a barley-based beer.
"They were almost certainly a beer-drinking people," said Professor McGuire Gibson, of the University of Chicago, leader of the dig at Tell Hamoukar. It has been well known that beer brewing was a central part of man's early civilizations. Some of the oldest Sumerian tablets are inscribed with recipes for beer, and barley brews also played a role in ancient Egyptian and Northern European cultures. But this latest discovery is one more confirmation of the crucial role beer has played in human history. In the millenniums since, beer has remained a greater or lesser part of various human societies.
It wasn't a big deal for the Romans, but the aggressive, exploratory Anglo-Saxon civilizations have ensured the spread of beer to every corner of the modern world. People in Asia, Africa and South America drink pilsners and lagers descended from the Bohemian and German brews of the 19th century. It is quite astonishing that this ancient drink, albeit in modern form, is still such a part of human culture in the 21st century. The question is why? One reason for beer's survival may be its properties as a healthful tonic. New research has found that beer flavored with hops contains a powerful anti-oxidant. Other research has pointed to a reduction in risk for heart attack and stroke. These beneficial aspects of beer may have contributed to its longevity, even though the specific protective effects were not known.
Just as the pharmacopeia of healing herbs has been passed down from generation to generation, knowledge of the wonderful characteristics of beer was transmitted through the millennia. It is likely that people have also valued beer for its properties in helping transform behaviour. It makes people gregarious and inquisitive and allows them to view the world through a new prism. All to the good. In the ancient Syrian city at Tell Hamoukar, however, it is not likely that DUI was a serious issue. Today, of course, society often focuses on the negative consequences of consumption. We have developed a broad range of controls to ensure that people will not abuse beer. The world is more complex and populous today, and we obviously need rules to regulate behaviour. There are age limits, and limits on what you can do after you've been drinking beer.
All to the good. But the rule-making continues. In some towns in America, possession of more than one keg is a misdemeanor, punishable with a fine and jail time. Other laws place draconian limits on blood alcohol content (BAC) levels allowable while driving. BAC of .08 is the current bugaboo, but it will likely get stricter. It is likely to become ever more difficult to keep beer in its accustomed place in our culture. Those in the beer industry today are faced with an almost sacred task. They must continue the work of those ancient Syrian brewers, by carrying on a valued cultural tradition within the context of a much more complicated world.
The picture is actually quite encouraging. Small brewers and beer importers are bringing a wonderful diversity of beer to American consumers. A reading of the recent book Citizen Coors presents the public with a very favorable portrait of men like Bill Coors and August Busch III, as people focused on the quality and flavor of their beer first and foremost. It is this attitude that will carry beer through any trials. Beer should not just be a commodity, a "box" to sell. A brewery should never be referred to as a "plant" or "factory." Beer is beer, a magical substance that has been passed down to us from our ancestors. Next time you crack open a bottle of beer, let your mind wander back to those Ancient Syrian brewers, and the vile stuff they drank and called beer. Then give a silent thanks to guys like Coors, Busch and Koch for carrying on this ancient art, and for making beer better than it has ever been made before.
Stick-ons for Stone Age tools - evidence found of glue-like materials used to attach handles to tools 36,000 years ago
Two stone implements dating to at least 36,000 years ago bear traces of a sticky black substance once used to attach them to a handle, according to a new report. The discovery of the gluelike material, identified in chemical analyses as bitumen, pushes back substantially estimates of when adhesives were first used in tool making. Until now, the earliest evidence of this technique appeared at Middle Eastern sites no more than about 10,000 years old.
"These new data suggest that [Stone Age] people had greater technical ability than previously thought, as they were able to use different materials to produce tools," contend Eric Boeda of the University of Paris and his coworkers in the March 28 Nature. The artifacts, which run from 2 inches to 3.5 inches in length, come from a site in the Syrian desert known as Umm el Tlel. Each was struck from a specially prepared lump of stone, a technique that became widespread between 35,000 and 100,000 years ago in North Africa and nearby Mediterranean regions. Bitumen traces appear at convenient spots for attaching a handle to the sharp-edged stones, the researchers assert. Chemical features of the bitumen indicate that it was heated and applied to the implements as a glue, they say.
The new finds lie just below sediment dated at about 36,000 years old. If the artifacts were made 40,000 years ago or more, complex tool making has surprisingly ancient roots, writes Simon Holdaway, an archaeologist at La Trobe University in Bundoora, Australia, in an accompanying comment. If, however, the artifacts were made close to 36,000 years ago, members of a population wedded to traditional methods of tool production may have copied the adhesive innovations of a neighboring group, he suggests. Either anatomically modern humans or Neandertals could have fashioned the Syrian tools, according to Holdaway.
Bronze Age cemetery emerges in Syria - group tomb, discovered on bank of Euphrates River, dates to 2500 to 2250 BC
What began as a muddy chasm in a farmer's field in 1993 has now become a source of unexpected insights into the Early Bronze Age people who once flourished in what is now northern Syria. Excavations in April at Tell es-Sweyhat, on the banks of the Euphrates River, uncovered a group tomb dating to between 2500 B.C. and 2250 B.C., according to initial estimates. Discoveries in the tomb, which may have been a family burial, set the stage for exploration of a surrounding cemetery that contains as many as 150 similar tombs, according to project director Richard L.
Zettler, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. "This ancient cemetery covers at least 2 acres and hasn't been looted," Zettler says. "It has great research potential." Until now, knowledge of Early Bronze Age life in northern Mesopotamia, the land between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, came largely from prior finds at Ebla, Zettler notes. That ancient Syrian site includes a royal palace and thousands of tablets bearing written administrative records. Urban civilization first arose in southern Mesopotamia around 3400 B.C. (SN: 3/3/90, p.136).
The number and quality of goods in the Tell es-Sweyhat tomb suggest that people buried there were not royalty, Zettler asserts. They may have lived at a nearby town now being excavated by his team. Work at the settlement began in 1989. Irrigation of a nearby field by a farmer 2 years ago caused the collapse of a sinkhole, offering the first peek at the tombs. This year, researchers dug about 10 feet through soil that had filled in a tomb shaft. There they found an oval burial chamber about 12 feet long and 15 feet wide. Inside rested the bones of at least 10 people. One intact female skeleton and the partial remains of another person lay near the entrance to the chamber. Most of the rest of the bones were piled against a rear wall or scattered nearby. Bodies were probably thrown there "with apparent callous disregard," Zettler contends. Various objects were buried with the bodies.
These include pottery vessels, beads, shells, copper or bronze daggers, axes, javelin points, and a model chariot with wheels. The tomb also yielded the bones of a whole pig and other animals. The inclusion of what appear to be offerings to the dead signifies belief in an afterlife, Zettler says. For that reason, he finds it puzzling that most of the bodies were unceremoniously thrown together in a heap. A survey of other sinkholes that have opened up in the field indicates the presence of another 100 to 150 burials of similar size, he adds. Ongoing work at other Early Bronze Age sites in Syria has unearthed monumental tombs built for royalty, suggesting that a range of burial types existed at that time, says Glenn M. Schwartz, an archaeologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. "But Zettler's site is very promising because, unlike so many others in this region, none of the graves has been looted," he asserts.
SYRIA - The Fountainhead of Human Civilization Compiled