The research sheds new light on the food ways of the first cities in Mesopotamia

The research sheds new light on the ways of food in the first cities

Beveled bowls. Credit: University of Glasgow

The world’s first urban state societies developed in Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq, about 5,500 years ago.

No other type of artifact is more emblematic of this development than the so-called beveled edge bowl (BRB), the first mass-produced ceramic bowl.

The function of BRB and what foods these dishes contain has been a topic of debate for over a century.

A research paper was published on November 18, 2022 in the Journal Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports He explains that BRBs are found in a variety of foods, but in particular meat-based meals, most likely bone marrow-flavored soups or broths.

The chemical compounds and stable isotopic signatures of animal fats in BRBs were detected from the late Chalcolithic site of Shaki Kora located in the Upper Diyala/Sirwan River Valley in northeastern Iraq.

An international team led by Professor Claudia Glatz of the University of Glasgow has been carrying out excavations at Shakhy Kura since 2019 as part of the Sirouan Regional Project.

BRBs are mass-produced thick-walled conical vessels that appear to have spread from southern lowland sites such as Uruk-Warka through northern Mesopotamia, to the Zagros foothills and beyond. BRBs have been found by the thousands at Late Chalcolithic sites, and are often associated with archaeological structures.

Stylized BRBs appear on the oldest written documents, early cuneiform tablets, and have traditionally been interpreted as ration containers used to distribute grain or grain-based foods to state-dependent workers or employees. Taxed and stored grains such as wheat, emmer, and barley have always been the economic backbone and main source of wealth and power for early state institutions and elites.

However, the paper titled “Revealing Invisible Stews: New Results of Organic Residual Analyzes of Bevelled-Edged Vessels from the Late Chalcolithic Site of Shakhi Kura, Kurdistan Region of Iraq” states that “our analytical results challenge traditional interpretations that BRBs are containers of grain.” – Rations and Breadsticks. The presence of meat – and dairy foods also in Shakhi Kora bowls supports multipurpose interpretations and indicates local processes for appropriating the meaning and function of the bowl.”

Dr Elsa Perocchini, INS, Paris, and the University of Glasgow, who conducted the chemical analysis, said, “The combined approach of chemical and isotopic analysis using GC-MS and GC-C-IRMS was used to determine the source(s) of the lipids extracted from the ceramic brittles, with the aim of providing New insights into the function of BRBs”.

The research sheds new light on the ways of food in the first cities

A trench in Shakhi Koura where bowls with chamfered edges were found. Credit: University of Glasgow

Professor Claudia Glatz, Professor of Archeology at the University of Glasgow and director of the Shakhy Kura excavations, said, “Our findings provide a major advance in the study of early urbanism and the emergence of the intuition of the state.

They show that there was significant local variation in the ways in which BRBs were used across Mesopotamia and the foods in which they were served, challenging overly state-focused models of early social complexity.

“Our findings suggest a great deal of local agency in embracing and reinterpreting the function and social symbolism of things, which elsewhere are unambiguously linked to state institutions and specific practices. As a result, they open up new and exciting avenues for research on the role of food and food in development, negotiation and potential rejection. of the early state at the regional and local level.

Professor Jaime Tunney, Professor of Environmental and Climate Sciences in the University’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, said, “We have worked closely with Claudia and her team for several years to reduce pollution during ship collection from archaeological sites and it is great to see this come to fruition with the analysis of fossil remains. And stable isotope analysis clearly indicates that they once contained animal fats.”

more information:
Elsa Peroccini et al., Revealing invisible stews: new findings from organic residue analyzes of bowls with beveled edges from the Late Chalcolithic site of Shakhi Kura, Kurdistan Region of Iraq, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2022.103730

Provided by the University of Glasgow

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