This Week in the Ancient Near East

Born on the (Mesopotamian) Bayou, or Welcome to Lagash; There is No Lifeguard on Duty, Swim at Your Own Risk

New data shows that cities in southern Mesopotamia were often islands in the stream divided by canals with lots of open spaces. What does it mean for early urban life if you have to take a gondola to work? Did kids learn to swim at Sumerian YMCAs? Who knew that urbanism was such a splash? 

A 25th Dynasty Cheese Fit for the Afterlife, or, Why Expiration Dates Matter

The discovery of cheese in a 25th Dynasty Egyptian tomb made us realize, everybody loves cheese. But what is cheese, really? And whether a spreadable chevre or a squeaky halloumi, how did people even survive it before pasteurization? Our panelists stand proudly with the cheese.

The Little Iron Age Papyrus That Could, Go from Jerusalem to Montana and Then Back to Jerusalem, or, Call Him Ishmael?

A little smidgeon of a papyrus has returned from Montana to Jerusalem. Does it date to the Iron Age? Is it real? Does it contain the word Ishmael? How did it get to Montana? Our contestants are confused, as usual. Maybe more than usual, which is saying a lot.

The Uncomfortable Ivory Decorated Chairs of Iron Age Jerusalem, or, Wait, There Were Elephants Wandering Around in the Iron Age?

The find of ivory decorations for furniture in Iron Age Jerusalem raises many questions. Where does the furniture come from and why does it look so uncomfortable? Were these diplomatic gifts or local knockoffs? Were there really elephants wandering around Syria in this period? Isn’t that what we should really be talking about?

The Archaeological Puzzle of Playing in the Past, Or, Bronze Age Barbie Bonanza?

A recent article on a button-like toy has us wondering, what are toys anyway and what are they for? Were there actually children in the past? And what is playing, really? No, really, what is playing? And that’s where things started getting sticky for us.

Sticky Fingers in the Valley of the Kings, or Howard Carter and the Case of King Tut’s Tomb

The upcoming 100th anniversary of the discovery of King Tut’s tomb has us talking about the discoverer, Howard Carter, who seems to have had sticky fingers and a propensity to fudge the story of his find. Ethics? Morals? Does it matter? Look at all that nice stuff!

Introducing Opium, the Late Bronze Age Miracle Cure! Or, Smacked into a Trance in the Second Millennium BCE

New research shows that certain Late Bronze Age pots from Cyprus really did contain opium, which isn’t too surprising since they’re shaped like opium poppies. What’s going on? What was all this opium for? Was everyone in the past on drugs? Sure looks that way.

Cult of the Head or Cult of the Dead? Or, Human Sacrifice in the Neolithic, What? Eww!

A new article on Neolithic skulls raises questions, like just how did all those skulls get separated from the bodies? Were there human sacrifices in the Neolithic or were there “ancestor cults,” whatever those were? Our contestants must dodge the ick factor to get to the Truth.

The Archaeology of Finger Licking Goodness, or, Why Did the Chicken Cross the Planet?

New data that show the chicken was domesticated vastly later than previously thought have shattered the poultry paradigm. Moreover, chickens were elite pets for centuries before someone decided to toss them in a pot. The myths of the archaic bird die hard in this fast moving and delicious episode.

The Mystery of King Tut’s Sky Iron Knife, or, How Much Would You Pay for a Knife Like This?

A new analysis has shown King Tut’s knife was made of sky iron, that’s right, iron from the sky, you know, like from a meteor, the kind from outer space. What’s so special about iron anyway and what’s the deal with diplomacy and gift giving in the Late Bronze Age? And why are we talking about bellbottoms and personal computers?

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