Ancient ‘sceptres’ may be the oldest drinking straws
The gold and silver straws, each about 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) long, are over 5,000 years old. While these straws appear comically long, with proportions similar to those of Dr. Seuss, researchers believe they were used to drink beer from communal vessels at banquets honoring the dead.
The novelty straws, four of which were decorated with bull figurines, include perforated metal parts to filter impurities from the beer, such as sediment or husks.
The straws, along with one of the beer vessels, were found at the Maikop Kurgan, a prehistoric burial mound in Russia’s North Caucasus. The vessel was so large that it would have allowed each of the eight drinkers to drink seven pints each.
The mound was first excavated by archaeologist Nikolai Veselovsky, a professor at St. Petersburg University, in the summer of 1897. In the mound, Veselovsky found graves belonging to elite members of the Bronze Age society, including the remains of three people and hundreds of specials. objects.
In the larger burial chamber were the remains of an individual wearing what was once a “richly decorated garment”. Hundreds of beads, semi-precious stones, gold, ceramic vessels, metal cups made of precious metals, weapons and tools were included in the tomb.
And then there was a set of eight gold and silver tubes to the right of the skeleton. Veselovsky speculated that these were decorative scepters and that the perforations at the end of each were once used to attach ornaments or horsehair.
In the fall of 1898, Veselovsky moved all the material from the mound to the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, presenting the collection to Tsar Nicholas II and the Romanov family in a special exhibition.
Over the past century, other scholars have debated the true purpose of the “scepters.” One suggested the tubes were part of the structure of a folding canopy used during the funeral procession for the person in the burial chamber. Another thought they might be symbolic rods used to represent arrows, since the arrowheads were salvaged from the mound.
Viktor Trifonov, an archaeologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Material Culture History, and his colleagues have punched holes in all previous theories, not least because these objects would likely have required solid metal parts rather than hollow tubes. The number of tubes and their position to the right of the skeleton also suggested something else.
“A turning point was the discovery of the barley starch granules in the residue of the inner surface of one of the straws. This provided direct material evidence that the tubes of the Maikop kurgan were used for drinking,” said Trifonov, lead author of the study, in a report.
The earliest evidence of the use of straws is actually depicted in Iranian and Iraqi art dated to the fifth and fourth millennia BC, showing people using straws to drink from a communal vessel.
Using long straws to drink beer together was also common for the Sumerians, an early Mesopotamian civilization of the third millennium BC, according to their works.
Maikop straws looked remarkably similar to Sumerian depictions of straws, including metal colanders.
“If the interpretation is correct, these sophisticated devices would be the earliest surviving drinking straws to date,” Trifonov said.
A desire for luxury
The Maikop straws came from a site hundreds of miles from where the straws were used in Mesopotamia, suggesting that the use of the straws must have spread between regions.
“The findings contribute to a better understanding of the beginnings of ritual banquets and drinking culture in hierarchical societies,” Trifonov said.
Perhaps those in Maikop were related to other southern societies – and wanted to enjoy a similar style of luxury and include drinking ceremonies. In Sumer, the communal drink was part of a banquet that accompanied the royal funeral. Given the placement of the straws in the Maikop burial mound near an important person, it is likely that this group observed the same practices.
Although these decorated tubes may seem like the precursor to the reusable metal straws that conservationists use today, it is not known if they were reused before being buried.
“Before doing this study, I would never have believed that in the most famous elite burial of the Caucasus of the Bronze Age, the main object would be neither weapons nor jewelry, but a set valuable beer straws,” Trifonov said.