Although seemingly crude and simple, these small low-fired ceramic bowls have an important story to tell about labor and power in the world’s earliest states. Archaeologists call them “bevel rim bowls,” and they are found by the tens of thousands at 4th millennium BC Uruk Period sites throughout greater Mesopotamia. Most archaeologists interpret them as rationing bowls, used to provide daily food rations to laborers recruited to work on state projects such as building canals or temples. At the end of each day, a worker would be given a bowlful of barley. After the contents were consumed, the bowls were discarded, making these the world’s earliest disposable serving vessels. Curator Henry Wright recovered many thousands of whole and fragmentary bevel rim bowls in his excavations of Uruk deposits at the sites of Tepe Sharafabad and Tepe Farukhabad in southwestern Iran.
In honor of the University of Michigan’s 2017 bicentennial, we are celebrating the remarkable archaeological and ethnographic collections and rich legacy of research and teaching at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology by posting one entry a day for 200 days. The entries will highlight objects from the collections, museum personalities, and UMMAA expeditions. The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology is also posting each day for 200 days on Twitter and Facebook (follow along at #KMA200). After the last post, an exhibition on two centuries of archaeology at U-M opens at the Kelsey. Visit the exhibit—a joint project of the UMMAA and the Kelsey—from October 18, 2017 to May 27, 2018.