Sunday, 20 June 2021

Dairy farming seal

Cylinder seal, c.3200-3000 B.C. Late Uruk-Jemdet Nasr period. Official description:

In the lower field of this seal appear three reed cattle byres (cow sheds). Each byre is surmounted by three reed pillars topped by rings, a motif that has been suggested as symbolizing a male god, perhaps Dumuzi... (question here: why?)

Within the huts calves or vessels appear alternately; from the sides come calves that drink out of a vessel between them. Above each pair of animals another small calf appears. A herd of enormous cattle moves in the upper field...

This is a very interesting seal. First I think that it is a calendar marker. The cattle are the wild eurasian cattle, aurochs, which start calving in Apr/May. This is what the original Taurus animal calendar marker marked...

I talked about this in my post "Ram and bull"...

This is a super important part of the year in Mesopotamia. The peak of the water levels of Tigris and Euphrates. The annual flood...Which was believed to be caused by Enki, the god of fresh water...

Water level charts:

Tigris

Euphrates

Which is why, in "Enki and the world order" we read: "...Father Enki...he stood up full of lust like a rampant bull, lifted his penis, ejaculated and filled the Tigris with flowing water. He was like a wild cow mooing for its young in the wild grass..." 

I talked about this in my post "Shamash young and old"...

The houses depicted on the seal are the houses of the so called Marsh Arabs...The annual flood which coincides with the beginning of the aurochs calving season used to turn the central Mesopotamia into this 

I talked about this in my post "Enki's little boat"...

You can see cattle, sheep and goats inside of pens, enclosures, located next to houses...Not inside of the houses...Which makes me doubt whether the buildings depicted on the seal are indeed cattle byres...

So what is depicted on this seal?

What is very interesting is that one of them is full of calves and the other one is full of ceramic vessels...What could this mean?

Is it possible that this is a very early depiction of butter production? Like humans, cows only produce milk after they have given birth...Almost all calves are separated from cows within hours or days of birth, so that they don't drink all the milk the cows produce...

So if you want to milk the cows, you would take the calves away from their mothers, and put them into a separate object, a calves shed. You would then milk the cows, take part of the milk for yourself and give part of it to the calves...

This would explain that only calves are depicted in the so called cattle byres. And this would also explain why the calves are drinking out of vessels...But what about the pots? Well, I think they could be butter churns and butter storage vessels...

Exactly that is depicted on the frieze from the temple at Ubaid, near Ur, in southern Mesopotamia. Dating from ca. 2,500 B.C., this frieze has been cited as "the earliest absolute evidence for the use of milk"...


Here is the same scene drawn, so you can see the details more clearly. The drawing is from this interesting paper: "Cows, milk and religion: the use of dairy produce in early societies"... 

Top row shows cows being milked with their calves tied around their necks...

Bottom row shows calves in their separate shed, separated from their mothers, who are now milked for their milk, which is then turned into butter, by the man in the middle...

Cows, milk and religion: "Milk quickly turned sour in the hot climate of Early Mesopotamia and as a consequence appears not to have been consumed to any great extent by adults. It was fed to young babies [and calves]...but was mainly processed to make butter and cheese"...

"The early texts indicate that Sumerian butter and cheese were made from soured milk...The fact that the early sources note that the butter was poured and stored in similar vessels to other liquids indicates that butter was clarified to form ghee"...

"Butter would first have been produced in solid form and then boiled in order to remove the water content. It is the water in solid butter that causes it to turn rancid but conversion to ghee increases its life for up to a year"...

"Ghee would have had similar uses to olive oil, the latter being little used in early Mesopotamia...Ghee also had non-culinary uses. One Ur III (2112-2004 BC) text indicates that it was used for sealing the hulls of boats"...

So that would explain the scene depicted on the original seal. In the left house we see amphoras for storing ghee on the left and butter churns on the right. And in the right house we see calves...Calves which drink from the same vessels...Indicating they are drinking milk...

This is super cool. Why? Cows, milk and religion: "The evidence for "dairying" in Mesopotamia...are virtually

absent from Uruk IV (3200-3100 BC) texts but become plentiful during the Uruk III (3100-3000BC). This may indicate an expansion in the use of dairy produce at this time"

The original seal is from 3200-3000 BC...So from the time of the sudden arrival of dairying to Mesopotamia...So this could actually be the oldest depiction of a dairying scene found in Mesopotamia, predating the Ubaid frieze by half a millennium...

Where did dairying arrive from so suddenly? In this article http://oldeuropeanculture.blogspot.com/2021/02/milk-butter-cheese.html I talked about early butter churns from Neolithic Levant, Anatolia and Central Europe...Things that looked like this:

These vessels were filled with milk from the top, then hanged from a tree or a tripod and swung to shake the milk inside the vessel and separate butter from milk liquid...

These ceramic butter churns were clay versions of much older sheep (or goat) skin churns, like this one on the picture, which were still used by Beduins, Arabs, Kurds and Iranians until the 20th century...

Cows, milk and religion: "[according to the early textual and graphic depictions]...the butter was churned in earthenware vessels...the skin bags used for butter making are rarely mentioned in the early Sumerian texts"...

That is very interesting...The butter churn depicted on the Ubaid frieze looks very much like this: traditional Indian butter churn...

Why? Did dairying arrive to Mesopotamia from the east and not from the west?

Cows, milk and religion: "[After suddenly appearing during 3100-3000BC]...records of dairy produce tend to decline from the Old Babylonian period (2000-1600BC) onwards and are rare in Babylonian or Assyrian sources"...

Why? Is this sudden appearance and disappearance of the dairying records in some way linked to sudden appearance and disappearance of dairy liking people?

Cows, milk and religion: "Cattle, however, were not kept primarily for their milk and their main role appears to be the provision of traction. Old Babylonian texts record a price of 7 ⅔ shekels for a fully grown milking cow, compared with 12 shekels for a draft ox"...

But that was after the decline of dairying in Mesopotamia...Very strange...To me anyway...

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