Found, lost and found again: Bristol profs find 4000-year-old FOOD in a uni cupboard

Uni researchers stumble upon missing 4,500-year-old Iraqi food and artifacts on top of a cupboard at Bristol Uni.


Every student house in Bristol probably has mouldy week-old food.

But the results of a spring clean of the archaeology department really just take the biscuit.

A box of ancient food and kitchenware from the prehistoric city of Ur was found hidden away on top of a university cupboard.

The now-priceless artifacts – seeds, animal bones, apple rings and pots – were originally found in a royal tomb during an archaeological dig of the city almost a hundred years ago.

(c) Dr Tamar Hodos

The long-forgotten box contained priceless archaeological treasures we never knew were missing. (c) Dr Tamar Hodos

The box also contained hand-written index cards describing details of each object and where they were found during the original dig, which researchers used to determine where they had come from.

But uni profs are baffled as to how the missing treasures wound up in Bristol.  The dig was jointly sponsored by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum – and seems to have had no connection to Bristol Uni.

Dr Tamar Hodos, Senior Lecturer in the Archaeology department, said: “I would classify it in the same category as ‘I found a Monet in my grandmothers’ attic.’”

(c) Dr Tamar Hodos

Seeds, apple rings, animal bones and pottery: the oldest leftovers in Bristol (c) Dr Tamar Hodos

Ur was a prehistoric city-state in Sumeria, which is in today’s Iraq.  The artifacts are believed to be food offerings made to the royal as he or she was buried.

What makes them even more valuable is that treasures found in archaeological digs at the time were usually documented and then returned to their original place underground.

Still, we could’ve been luckier: the original dig in the 1920s and 30s had found that Sumerian royals were often buried with dazzling gold and silver jewellery, paintings and furniture.

The findings have now been handed over to the British Museum, to join the other artifacts from Ur on display there.