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5,000-Year-Old Tavern Discovered in Ancient City of Lagash in Iraq

A nearly 5,000 year old tavern was excavated at the site of ancient Lagash in Iraq
A nearly 5,000-year-old tavern was excavated at the site of ancient Lagash in Iraq. Credit: Lagash Archaeological Project / University of Pennsylvania

A tavern dating back to roughly 2,700 BC has been discovered at the excavation site of ancient Lagash in southern Iraq. Lagash was an important city-state in ancient Mesopotamia.

The discovery was announced last week by the University of Pennsylvania. Amid the ruins of the nearly 5,000-year-old tavern, the archaeologists also discovered an oven, a clay refrigerator, and even the remains of food.

The excavation was conducted by archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pisa. Researchers are excited that the find could shed more light on the lives of the ancient Mesopotamians.

Discovery of the tavern in Lagash, southern Iraq

The discovery was made during the fourth season of excavations, carried out between October 22 and November 27, last year. The effort was led by Holly Pittman of the Penn Museum, the University of Pennsylvania, and supported by Sara Pizzimenti of the University of Pisa.

The archaeologists used methods including excavation, surface survey, UAV (drone) photography, magnetometry, mapping, and coring for geological and cultural samples at points of interest across a site spanning over 600 hectares.

The tavern was discovered in trench 3. In one of the tavern’s rooms, the archaeologists found “hundreds of ceramic bowls and beakers […] many with their original content (food and drink, with plentiful animal bones and organic residue) still in situ.”

In the southeastern corner of the same room, another exciting discovery was waiting to be unearthed by the archaeologists. Here, they found a “large circular installation” consisting of “the reused bottoms of two large jars, carefully cut and placed on inside the other, with the space between them packed with pottery sherds.”

According to the researchers, this ceramic installation was once used as a “cooling device”, or refrigerator, for the storage of beverages. The discovery of this bronze-age cooling device, together with a large oven, a courtyard full of benches, and ceramic food containers in tench 3 is what led the archaeologists to conclude that it was once a tavern.

The ancient city of Lagash

“The site was of major political, economic, and religious importance,” said Holly Pittman, the project leader. “However, we also think that Lagash was a significant population center that had ready access to fertile land and people dedicated to intensive craft production.”

Lagash appears to have risen to prominence as an important Sumerian city in the late 3rd millennium BC and was one of the oldest cities of the Ancient Near East. The Sumerians themselves are the oldest known civilization in southern Mesopotamia.

Lagash became a powerful city-state in the region and came to dominate the surrounding region. Under the rule of kings like Ur-Baba and Gudea, the ancient polity thrived, and the kingdom of Lagash came to encompass 17 cities and at least 40 villages.

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