There is an unresolved argument in academic circles about whether the invention of beer was the primary reason that people in Mesopotamia, considered the birthplace of Western civilization about 10,000 years ago, first became agriculturalists.
By about 3200 B.C., around the time the Sumerians invented the written word, beer had already held a significant role in the region’s customs and myths. Sipped through a straw by all classes of society, it is also believed to have been a source of drinkable water and essential nutrients, brewed in both palaces and in average homes. During the rule of King Hammurabi, tavern owners were threatened with drowning if they dared to overcharge.
But for all the notes that Sumerians took about the ingredients and the distribution of their libations, no precise recipes have ever been found. Left behind were only cuneiform texts that vaguely hint at the brewing process, perhaps none more poetically than the Hymn to Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of beer.
Story: Steven Yaccino, NY Times | Photo: Michael F. McElroy, NY Times