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By Andrew Jack in New York and London

Exhibition Highlights and Historical Background Notes
Courtesy of British Museum
12 March 2009

Beer and wine were drunk in Mesopotamia .

Gold cup
From Southern Iraq
About 2600-2400 BC
Height: 12.380cm
Photo: Trustees of the British Museum

This gold cup was one of four vessels (including an electrum vessel) found on the floor of the pit of the Queen's Grave in the Royal Cemetery at Ur. They were lying alongside the sacrificial victims.

There are no deposits of gold in Mesopotamia, and the metal would probably have been imported from Iran or Anatolia (modern Turkey). However, the vessel itself was almost certainly manufactured in Mesopotamia.

Beer and wine were drunk in Mesopotamia. The 'Peace' panel on the Standard of Ur shows the kind of banquet during which a cup like this might have been used.

Terracotta plaque with an erotic scene

Terracotta plaque with an erotic scene
Old Babylonian, around 1800 BC; From Mesopotamia
Height: 8.900 cm; Width: 7.200 cm
Gift of Major Burn (1925)
Photo: Trustees of the British Museum

This baked clay plaque appears to show a man and woman having sex, while the woman bends over to drink beer through a straw. Ancient documents of this period include examples of erotic poetry where strong connections are made between alcohol and sexual activity.

Baked clay plaques were mass-produced in southern Mesopotamia from the second millennium BC. They show informal scenes and reflect the private face of life. Though their exact purpose is not clear, they may have had magical or religious significance.

Babylon: Myth and Reality
Edited by I. L. Finkel and M. J. Seymour

Paperback: 240 pages
The British Museum Press (November 2008)
ISBN-10: 0714111708
ISBN-13: 978-0714111704

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