Researchers have discovered a 5,000-year-old tavern hidden 19 inches underground in southern Iraq, according to a Jan. 23 press release from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).
Archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pisa conducted the excavation beginning in 2019, Smithsonian Magazine reported. The team used advanced technology, including drone imagery and magnetometry, to identify the site’s layout. The site, located in the ancient city of Lagash, offers clues about the lives of everyday people who lived in southern Mesopotamia around 2700 B.C.E. (RELATED: Archaeologists Identify 3,200-Year-Old Knife-Wielding Spider God Mural In Peru)
Inside the open-air eating space, archaeologists found benches, an oven, a clay refrigerator called a “zeer” and storage vessels that still held food, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
“The fact that you have a public gathering place where people can sit down and have a pint and have their fish stew, they’re not laboring under the tyranny of kings,” University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Reed Goodman told CNN. “Right there, there is already something that is giving us a much more colorful history of the city.”
Holly Pittman, a professor and archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the Lagash project director, said Lagash was an important industrial and capital city during the third millennium.
“The site was of major political, economic, and religious importance. However, we also think that Lagash was a significant population center that had ready access to fertile land and people dedicated to intensive craft production,” Pittman said in a press release from the university.
The researchers also discovered six ceramic kilns in an area where the city’s inhabitants once made pottery, according to Smithsonian Magazine. The kilns’ density indicated ceramic production played a significant role in the city.
Spanning roughly three miles from north to south with a width of one mile, Lagash is the largest archaeological site in southern Mesopotamia, according to the university. While Pittman and her team began the most recent field season in Lagash in 2019, excavations in the region date back to the 1930s, when Penn researchers partnered with Sir Leonard Woolley and the British Museum to uncover artifacts in the city of Ur, about 30 miles southwest of Lagash.
In the 1960s and 70s, a team led by Donald Hansen from NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts and Vaughn Crawford from the Metropolitan Museum of Art began architectural research in the ancient city, but their studies eventually ended due to the Iran-Iraq War. Pittman returned with Hansen and other colleagues in 1990, but the Gulf War paused research again after a single field season, according to the university.
Pittman went to the State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in Iraq in 2017, seeking a permit to resume work at the Lagash site, Penn noted in the press release.
“Nobody on the team had worked in Iraq for a long time,” Pittman said, speaking about the resurgence of the team’s work in 2019. “But it was an extraordinarily successful season. We came back with a lot of information and ideas about how we wanted to go forward.”