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21 January 2012
Ancient Sumerian fermented cereal beverage

Archaeologists from the Ludwig Maximilian University, together with brewing experts from the Technical University of Munich, carried out an experiment in an attempt to replicate the beer of ancient Sumer, in Mesopotamia.
     Cuneiform writing scholar Peter Damerow of the Max Planck Institute believes that, although the experiment produced a brew, it only demonstrates that modern methods can produce a beer under ancient conditions. However he does think the experiment was a step in the right direction. "Given our limited knowledge about the Sumerian brewing processes, we cannot say for sure whether their end product even contained alcohol", wrote Damerow in the Cuneiform Digital Library Journal.
     Although many of the more than 4,000 year old cuneiform texts contain records of deliveries of emmer, barley and malt to breweries, as well as documentation of the activities, there is hardly any information on the production processes, and no recipe. Moreover, the methods used for recording this information differ between locations and time periods, and the records and calculations are not based on any consistent number system - Sumerian bureaucrats used different number systems depending on the nature of the objects to be counted or measured.
     This has cast doubt on the popular theory that Mesopotamian brewers used to crumble flat bread made from barley or emmer into their mash. The so-called 'bappir' (Sumerian for 'beer bread') is never counted as bread in the administrative texts, but in measuring units, like coarsely ground barley. "Such interdisciplinary research efforts might well lead to better interpretations of the 'Hymn of Ninkasi' than those currently accepted among specialists working on cuneiform literature", said Damerow.
     The 'Hymn of Ninkasi', a mythological poem or lyric text from the Old Babylonian period (circa 1800 BCE) which glorifies the brewing of beer - and one of the most significant sources on the ancient art - provides no reliable information about ingredients, nor does it conclusively describe the procedure.

Edited from PhysOrg.com (17 January 2012), Discovery News, Heritage Daily (19 January 2012)

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