Ancient Beer Straws: A Mystery 120 Years in the Unravelling

Ancient Beer Straws: A Mystery 120 Years in the Unravelling

We in the save-the-sea-turtles 21st century may think that reusable straws are a recent invention. But, if a team from the Russian Academy of Sciences are right in their hypothesis, a set of 5,000-year-old gold and silver tubes might just be humanity’s oldest discovered drinking straws.

In 1897, eight thin tubes, each over a metre long and with perforations on one end, were unearthed in an ancient burial mound in the Caucasus region of now-Russia. Laid out among the luxurious funerary goods next to the remains of a (clearly important in life) adult, the tubes were first thought to be sceptres or possibly supports for a textile canopy. But now, Viktor Trifonov, Denis Petrov, and Larisa Savelieva believe the tubes – some with decorative attachments shaped like bulls – were ancient party supplies. That’s because they were likely used to sharing a giant tureen of beer!

“The researchers say their theory is backed by evidence including depictions on seals from Iran and Iraq dating to the fifth to fourth millennium BC of people using straws to drink, while in the third millennium BC ‘banquet scenes showing groups of people sipping beer through long tubes from a shared vessel became popular in Mesopotamian art’.  […]

The tubes’ perforated tip is consistent with detachable metal straw tip-strainers used on the ends of reed straws in the Levant and Mesopotamia in the second millennium BC.

‘The set of eight drinking tubes in the Maykop tomb may therefore represent the feasting equipment for eight individuals, who could have sat to drink beer from the single, large jar found in the tomb,’ the authors wrote.”

Apparently, ancient beer was especially, um, chunky, and the perforations at the bottom of the straws would have been used to filter out sediment. It seems the ancient mountain-dwellers enjoyed a smoother imbibing experience than I would have expected. And also much fancier – though we’re rolling in silicone and stainless steel reusable straws, none of them hold a candle to actual gold and silver! I wish we still had a similar reverence for the joys of sharing a drink with (up to seven) others. Maybe once this pandemic is over, we can all start a giant-beer-sharing trend. Bring your own straw – and plan to be buried with it!