Top Stories This Week: Arabian Chivalry, Polish Treasures & The Lost City of Lagash
In this top story overview, we highlight our most read articles this week, including a look at the little-known subject of Arabian Chivalry and exploring Lagash, a lost city from Mesopotamia. Among our most popular this week are three breaking news stories – newly-discovered evidence for social beer drinking in the Middle East, the discovery of 1,000-year-old treasures in a Polish tomb, and the finding of an 800-year-old birch bark letter in Russia.
Earliest Social Drinking Evidence in the Middle East Found in Israel
Israeli archaeologists working at the Tel Tsaf site in the Jordan valley have discovered the earliest evidence of social drinking in the Middle East, dating to 5000 BC. Source: Nejron Photo / Adobe Stock
Social drinking history in the Middle East has been rewritten with finds at Tel Tsaf, Israel. According to the Times of Israel , Israeli archaeologists have found the first evidence of social drinking in the Middle East from a 7,000-year-old settlement site in Jordan Valley. Archaeologists from the University of Haifa came to this conclusion after finding the remains of cereal grains used to produce alcohol in ancient pottery at the ancient site located in the central Jordan Valley.
According to Rosenberg, the Tel Tsaf find is very exciting because it is one of the few known Chalcolithic sites in the region, a period of transition from small, undifferentiated agricultural communities to larger, more complex ones that became urban settlements.
“We can imagine Tsaf’s developing community holding largescale events in which large quantities of food and beer are consumed in a social context — and not just in a ceremonial context, ” said Rosenberg.
Birch Bark Letters Found in Russia are an Ancient Time Capsule
Birch bark letter no. 497, (c. 1340 – 1390 AD) also discovered in Veliky Novgorod . ( Public domain )
Researchers excavating an estate dating back to the 12th and 15th century, have discovered a complete birch bark letter in the historic city center of Veliky Novgorod in north-western Russia. The letter was well-preserved thanks to the waterlogged clay soil in which it lay since the 12th century and adds to previous knowledge garnered from other birch bark letters found in the area.
More than 1,000 birch bark texts written on bark between 11 th and 15 th centuries have been found to date. They have been immensely significant in changing traditional ideas about literacy rates in ancient Russia, opening a new page in the study of the Russian language, and shedding light on early northern Russian culture.
Most of the letters deal with everyday usage, business and personal correspondence, such as instructions, complaints, contracts, news, reminders, and study exercises. They touch on family life and household management, trade and finance, crimes and legal proceedings, travel, military expeditions, and various other types of material, all of which reveal an enormous amount of details of medieval northern Russian life.
Antarah ibn Shaddad and the Origins of Chivalry in Pre-Islamic Arabia
Antarah ibn Shaddad (left) and his lover Abla (middle) riding horses. ( Public Domain )
When you think of concepts like honor, courtly love, and noblesse oblige, you likely conjure up images of European knights in steel-plate armor, mounted on giant destriers. European dress, European arms, and European mounts. These knights (in their real and fictional forms) may be dueling for a lady's honor, saving a damsel in distress from a dragon, helping the poor, showing mercy to their enemies, or giving their lady-loves roses whilst waxing poetic about their eyes. In short, they're adhering to the concept of noble chivalry. The idea dictates that mounted warriors who are trained well in their craft should also adhere to an exalted standard of personal ethics. This compels them to show courage, martial skill, generosity, kindness to all, general courtesy to men of noble station, exceptional courtesy to all women, along with piety, and a strong commitment to their promises and vows.
‘The reason you conjure up this image is that the English language now dominates the world, and thus, so does the English historical perspective of chivalry. The traditional English historical narrative heralds the arrival of the chivalric perspectives of generosity, honor, courtly love and noblesse oblige in Europe during the 13th century, sometime around 1200 AD. Before that, they say, minor nobles and mounted warriors were not expected to adhere to the standard we now know as chivalry, even as a naïve social idea, because at that point, chivalry did not even exist.
Or did it? Courtly and poetic love , noblesse oblige, gallantry, generosity of spirit, and chivalry, are all evidently present in Arabian culture since at least the early 6th century AD, around the year 500 or 501.
1,000-Year-Old Chamber Burial on Polish Island Reveals Rare Treasures
Rare amber ring found in a 1,000-year-old grave in Poland. Source: Jerzy Sikora
A 1,000-year-old grave on a remote island in northern Poland has been found to be richly furnished with grave goods, some of them extremely rare. Two amber rings, a bronze bowl, an iron knife in a leather holder and bronze buckles were found in the grave of a man near the village of Ostrowite, who lived between the 11th and 12th centuries, reports The First News .
This is not the first time that ancient burials have been unearthed at the site at Ostrowite, which lies in Poland’s Pomeranian Voivodeship. Two burials with bronze bowls were found earlier, one in 2007 by a farmer working in his field and another by archaeologists in 2010. As fragments of bronze bowls continued to be found throughout the site, archaeologists decided to work with volunteer teams with metal detectors to pinpoint where to dig for other graves in 2020 and 2021.
Dr. Jerzy Sikora from the University of Łódź, who has been leading the excavations at Ostrowite for years, said: “The deceased was most likely a representative of one of the local Pomeranian elites.”
Lagash, the Lost City of Mesopotamia
‘Eagle of Lagash’ symbol found on votive bas relief of Dudu in the Louvre Museum. Source: Louvre Museum / CC BY-SA 2.0
The historic region of Mesopotamia has been long regarded as one of the original cradles of civilization. Defined by the bountiful Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Mesopotamia gave birth to some truly prosperous and groundbreaking early civilizations. The foremost of these was the civilization of Sumer, well remembered for its revolutionary inventions, such as the early writing system. Sumerians were truly unique, and were defined by their powerful city-states that often competed for power and wealth. One of the most prominent of these city states was centered on the town of Lagash, a major and influential player in the politics and economy of Sumer.
Lagash had a long and diverse history, but eventually was lost to the passing of time. What little of it remains today is a true Pandora’s box for archaeologists. Excavations have yielded numerous significant finds and an important insight into the rich history of both Lagash, and the Sumerian civilization on the whole.
By Ancient Origins