Light & Verity

The post-paleo diet

Cooking from a 4,000-year-old recipe.

Office of Public Affairs and Communications

Office of Public Affairs and Communications

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Some of the world’s oldest recipes can be found in Yale’s Babylonian Collection, inscribed in cuneiform on clay tablets. But as an interdisciplinary team from Yale and Harvard learned recently, turning those 4,000-year-old instructions into a meal requires a lot of interpretation, improvisation, and guesswork. The team included Agnete Lassen, associate curator of the Babylonian Collection, and Chelsea Alene Graham, digital imaging specialist at Yale’s Institute for the Preservation of Cultural Heritage. They helped prepare three Babylonian stews at a May NYU event called An Appetite for the Past.

Two of the stews used lamb, one in a thick milk-based broth and the other with beets. The third was a vegetarian stew identified in the tablet, mysteriously enough, by the name “unwinding.” “We wanted to see if the experimental approach of cooking the recipes could help inform the translation and deeper understanding of the texts,” says Lassen. “Maybe not entirely as they would have prepared it, maybe our ingredients taste a little bit different—but still approximating something that nobody has tasted for almost 4,000 years.”

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