Sumerians Used Straws to Drink Beer from Shared Vessels!
In the quest to uncover the everyday lives of ancient civilizations, archaeologists have stumbled upon some fascinating finds. Among these intriguing artifacts are the beer pots of ancient Sumer, hinting at a drinking culture that might seem both familiar and peculiar to us. These pots suggest that the Sumerians, widely considered one of the earliest civilizations, enjoyed their brews in a distinctive way - through straws. But why would a civilization more than 4,000 years old opt for such a method? The answer lies in the brewing techniques of the time.
A Brew Unlike Any Other
Modern beer enthusiasts might find the Sumerian version of their favorite beverage a tad unappetizing. In contrast to today's clear, filtered beers, ancient Sumerian beer was a thick, porridge-like concoction, full of floating grain particles and byproducts from the brewing process. This wasn't a brew that one could simply pour and sip. Its consistency was more akin to a hearty stew than a refreshing liquid. The beer, often made from barley or emmer wheat, underwent a fermentation process that left it rich in residues. Due to the lack of advanced filtration methods, these solid byproducts remained in the drink, making direct consumption a grainy, and perhaps unpleasant, experience.
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Straws: The Sumerian Solution
To circumvent the challenges posed by their chunky brew, the Sumerians devised an ingenious solution: drinking straws. Archaeologists have unearthed large communal beer pots with multiple straws poking out from the rim. These weren't the disposable plastic straws of today, but rather long, crafted tubes made from materials like reeds or precious metals for the elite. These straws allowed the drinkers to access the liquid beneath the floating solid residues. A group could gather around a pot, each with their straw, and enjoy the brew together, bypassing the grainy remnants and getting straight to the liquid gold beneath.
A drinking straw from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, Iraq, consisting of alternating gold foil and lapis lazuli cylindrical beads set in bitumen on a hollow copper tube. Source: Trustees of the British Museum / CC by SA 4.0.
The presence of these straws wasn't merely functional; it was also cultural. The communal act of gathering around a beer pot and drinking together was likely a bonding experience, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie. In a way, it was an ancient precursor to our modern social gatherings around beverages, be it at a pub, café, or a family dining table. As you enjoy your next drink, it's worth noting how far we've come in our quest for the perfect brew.
Top image: Mesopotamian cylinder seal showing Sumerians drinking beer with straws. Source: Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative / CC by SA 4.0.