June 27 (UPI) -- Until now, archaeologists believed the people of Mesopotamia shared beer from large communal vessels, sipping the barley-derived beverage through straws.
But new research suggests that as early as 3,500 years ago, Mesopotamians were drinking beer out of individual vessels, just like modern pint drinkers.
The biochemical signatures of fermented barley beverages were discovered inside a variety of drinking vessels at an archaeological site in the Upper Diyala River Valley in northeastern Iraq.
The discovery, detailed in the Journal of Archaeological Science, provides an improved understanding of drinking culture in Mesopotamia during the 14th century BC.
"Our analytical results also allow us, for the first time and with confidence, to ascribe a diverse range of drinking equipment to the consumption of beers and in so doing track a significant transformation in Mesopotamian drinking practices," researchers wrote in their paper.
The archaeological analysis suggests drinkers were imbibing from a variety of vessels, some the equivalent of a small wine glass, others the size of a modern pint glass.
"Our results present a significant advance in the study of ancient Near Eastern beer brewing and consumption practices," Claudia Glatz, a professor of archaeology at the University of Glasgow, said in a news release. "They also provide us with unprecedented new insights into Mesopotamia's cultural relationships with the Upper Diyala River Valley, a strategic communication corridor between Mesopotamia and the Zagros Mountains that formed part of the later Silk Roads and that we have only recently begun to explore systematically."
Scientists used a new gas chromatography technique to identify the fossil signatures of beer inside the different vessels. The method can be used to analyze vessels on-site.
"Our novel, multi-stage methodology, provides an easy-to-implement field-sampling and analytical approach that significantly enhances the reliably of organic residue analysis results in archaeology," said Glasgow researcher Elsa Perruchini. "Simply put, with our new on-site sampling strategy, we avoid sample contamination from things like human skin oils or modern products such as sunscreen by using cotton gloves and sterilised tweezers to handle sample vessels, which are then immediately wrapped in sterilized aluminum foil."