Penn Archaeologist Discovers a 5000 Year Old Mesopotamian Tavern

Prateek Dasgupta
Aerial view of Lagash archaeological sitePhoto byLagash archaeological project

A team of archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pisa has uncovered an ancient "tavern" in the ruins of Lagash, one of southwest Asia's earliest cities. The team, led by Holly Pittman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, was using high-tech tools, including drone photography, thermal imaging, magnetometry, and micro-stratigraphic sampling, to excavate the site when they found the partially open-air, partially kitchen area

The tavern, dating back to around 2700 BCE, contains benches, a clay refrigerator called a "zeer," an oven, and the remains of storage vessels, many of which still contained food. The find is providing more information about the lives of everyday people who lived 5,000 years ago in this part of the world.

Lagash might have been something like Trenton, as in ‘Trenton makes, the world takes,’ a capital city but also an important industrial one- Professor Holly Pittman, Lagash project director
A drone view of the 5000 year old tavernPhoto byLagash archaeological project

At over 450 hectares, Lagash was one of the largest sites in southern Iraq during the 3rd millennium BCE and was of major political, economic, and religious importance. The researchers believe that Lagash was also a significant population center that had ready access to fertile land and skilled workers.

Previous excavations at the site have uncovered a pit of red clay, a pit of sand, kilns, and waste materials from pottery manufacturing, streets, alleyways, and traces of buildings. One building, thought to have been used by potters, contained benches and a table, while a nearby domestic kitchen space held clay jar stoppers, bowls with traces of food, and a grinding stone. A toilet was also found in another room in the dwelling. In addition to the tavern, the team is also investigating the ancient city's access to water, noting that the Tigris-Euphrates river delta would have been much closer to the site in the past.

Archaeological work at the site of Lagash has a long history dating back to the 1930s when the Penn Museum worked with Leonard Woolley and the British Museum to excavate the site of Ur. In the 1960s and 1970s, a team led by Donald Hansen and Vaughn Crawford completed five field seasons at Lagash, focusing on monumental and administrative architecture. However, the Iran-Iraq War halted this work, and the site remained untouched until 1990 when Hansen and colleagues returned for a single season. After that, the First Gulf War halted research again, and it wasn't until 2017 that Professor Pittman approached the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq for a permit to resume work at the site.

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As a writer, lost civilizations and human progress fascinate me. My goal on News Break is to spark people's interest in the past, archaeology, natural history, and the history of scientific inquiry.


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