Science

Oldest surviving straws hint at ancient culture of communal beer drinking

Oldest surviving straws hint a...
New analysis of ancient silver and gold tubes indicates them to be 5,000-year-old straws used for drinking from communal vessels
New analysis of ancient silver and gold tubes indicates them to be 5,000-year-old straws used for drinking from communal vessels
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The tubes carried similar characteristics to other ancient artifacts known to be used for drinking
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The tubes carried similar characteristics to other ancient artifacts known to be used for drinking
New analysis of ancient silver and gold tubes indicates them to be 5,000-year-old straws used for drinking from communal vessels
2/2
New analysis of ancient silver and gold tubes indicates them to be 5,000-year-old straws used for drinking from communal vessels

A set of lengthy silver and gold tubes dug up from a famous grave in the the Caucuses have been found to represent the oldest surviving drinking straws, with the scientists behind the discovery believing they were used for communal beer consumption. The specimens are 5,000 years old and help deepen our understanding of drinking culture in ancient hierarchical societies.

The set of eight tubes was unearthed back in 1987 in the Maikop Kurgan burial mound, a famous grave for Bronze Age elites in the Northern Caucasus. Researchers had since concluded the meter-plus-long tubes to be poles for a canopy, or, with bull figurines featuring on some, scepters. Researchers at the Institute for the History of Material Culture, Russian Academy of Sciences decided to dig a little further into their history, hoping to flesh out the details around their use.

"A turning point was the discovery of the barley starch granules in the residue from the inner surface of one of the straws," said lead author Dr. Viktor Trifonov. "This provided direct material evidence of the tubes from the Maikop Kurgan being used for drinking."

The presence of these granules suggests the straws were used for drinking beer, which ties in with other evidence of such practices among the early Mesopotamian civilization of Sumeria from the third millennium BCE, hundreds of kilometers away. Artwork from this era shows people gathering around communal vessels using multiple long straws, which feature metal strainers to filter out impurities in ancient beer.

The tubes carried similar characteristics to other ancient artifacts known to be used for drinking
The tubes carried similar characteristics to other ancient artifacts known to be used for drinking

These metal strainers were also discovered in the Maikop straws, along with some other key similarities. So, though the researchers were unable to confirm that the barley discovered in them had been fermented, the weight of evidence led them to conclude they were used for drinking, and likely for drinking beer.

"Before having done this study, I would never have believed that in the most famous elite burial of the Early Bronze Age Caucasus, the main item would be neither weapons nor jewelry, but a set of precious beer-drinking straws," said Dr. Trifonov.

While the specimens are considered the oldest surviving drinking straws, they don't represent the oldest evidence of such implements. Seals from the fifth and fourth millennium BCE in Iran and Iraq show people using straws to drink from communal vessels, suggesting the practice stretches even further back in history. Interestingly, among the artifacts extracted from the Maikop Kurgan was a vessel large enough to hold seven pints worth of beer for each of the eight suspected drinkers.

"The finds contribute to a better understanding of the ritual banquets' early beginnings and drinking culture in hierarchical societies," said Dr. Trifonov.

The research was published in the journal Antiquity

Source: Cambridge University Press via Phys.org

2 comments
2 comments
EH
Some of the most common ancient Egyptian artifacts are the remains of single-use clay beer straws. They and the Sumerians also used reed drinking straws, but these haven't survived except in pictures. One site claims they go back 7,000 years, which may be inaccurate. Straws not only helped avoid sediment in the unfiltered beer, but allowed multiple people to drink from the same vessel. (Good hygiene, too, but that's may have been by accident.)
Bob Flint
Great way to spread disease, & backwash your kinsman's meal....