Sunday, March 2, 2014
While working along the east side of the North Village, we came across a small pit sunk into the earliest mud plaster floor in the room. The pit had been sealed over with fill and a second mud plaster floor when the set of rooms had undergone renovation. The pit wasn’t very large and after clearing the remains of floors and walls, we opened up the pit.
It turned out not to be a pit, but a large jar that was only partially complete because the upper part of the jar had most likely been removed during the room’s renovation. Although no rim remained, one could see it was a large, straight walled jar of Nile silt with a slightly pointed base, a form that is quite common in Dynasty 18.
Inside the jar was a nice find – two vessels completely preserved although well worn.
The two pieces comprised a set: a red-coated Nile silt drinking jar and a little saucer. Such sets are well known from ancient Egyptian banqueting scenes where a servant pours liquid from the small cylindrical jar into a little saucer, often for a woman. The
saucer can also function as a cover for the jar when it rests in a jar stand, so that insects and dirt don’t fall into its contents. Men taking part in harvesting scenes are shown stopping to drink out of a larger version of this jar type.
That brings us to the type of liquid that this jar once held. It was most likely beer, a staple in an ancient Egyptian’s life. Beer was made from cereal grains, generally emmer wheat or barley, which were soaked to break down the starch. After that stage was completed, yeast and lactic bacteria were added to ferment the liquid brewing the beer. This description is an extremely simple version of a process that has been given much attention and we suggest that anyone who wants to learn more consider reading Delwen Samuel’s chapter on “Brewing and Baking” in Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology edited by Paul T Nicholson and Ian Shaw.
Ancient Egyptian beer as many of you probably know is unlike the brew we drink today and instead was probably similar to a number local African beers, thick, and nutritious. Samuel suggests that dates may have been used to flavor beer occasionally, although they were not apparently common. Interestingly, the most consistent botanical material we have recovered at the North Village has been date pits, although we don’t have many.
Nearby in this upper fill, we found another of these drinking jars, but this one, which was also quite worn, had been modified. The upper half had been knocked off and the sharp edge smoothed to create a “rim” so that the jar became a cup or scoop.
Diana Craig Patch