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World's oldest beer receipt?

Tom Lee of East Grand Rapids, MI, recently sent us this photo of an ancient beer receipt he owns. The document was recorded in ancient Sumerian, during the 45th year of the reign of Shulgi, the King of Ur, in 2050 BC. It is a dated and signed receipt for the delivery of beer, by an ancient brewer named Alulu, who produced beer in the city of Ur. "No Ur political documents from this time are known to exist," Mr. Lee writes. "Only this written and signed receipt for beer. The ancients had their priorities straight!"

The document is signed with the impression of the personal seal of Ur-Amma, the scribe and clerk who wrote the document 4,000 years ago. According to Mr. Lee's translation, the document reads: "Ur-Amma acknowledges receiving from his brewer, Alulu, 5 sila (about 4 1/2 liters) of the 'best' beer."

The kingdom of Ur was one of the earliest of the great Sumerian urban states. It was located on a fertile river plain, near where the Euphrates and Tigris turn into one river. The city is mentioned in the Bible, and has often been identified with the Garden of Eden, or Paradise. Some of the ruins of Ur are still extant, including a temple tower, or ziggurat. The Sumerian city states were eventually unified, and became the basis for the Babylonian civilization. Iraq's "Marsh Arabs" of contemporary times claim to be descended from these original peoples.

Mr. Lee says that his ancient beer receipt is a valued component in his library. "I've been collecting ancient documents and historical manuscripts, all over the world, for nearly 30 years," he writes. "I obtained the Ur tablet/beer receipt from the family of the grandson of one of the chief archaeologists who discovered the tablet during massive excavations at Ur prior to 1920. As literate scribes were few and far between 4,000 years ago, only very important things and events were memorialized in writing. Beer played a very different role in ancient Ur, and in other contemporaneous cultures, than it does in the present world. then, beer was also a principal food source, a source of nourishment. As I said, they had their priorities straight."

--Our thanks to Tom L. Lee, Ph. D
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Title Annotation:Tom L. Lee found the Ur tablet
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Jan 2, 2006
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