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How ancient lentils reveal the origins of social inequality

Mary Shepperson writes for The Guardian:

I should be in the Kurdish region of Iraq right now knee-deep in Late Chalcolitic archaeology, but instead I’m watching Bake Off in Crewe. The autumn excavation season in the Kurdish region is cancelled and most of the international teams have left, including the University College London project I was working on and the British Museum’s training excavation at Qalatga Darband. The cessation of international flights into and out of Iraqi Kurdistan, imposed by Baghdad after the Kurdish independence referendum on 25 September, has put a stop to archaeology in the region just at the best time of the year for digging.

It’s a shame, because before we were bundled off to the airport things were going very nicely at the modest mounded site of Gurga Chiya. After five seasons of work over six years we only needed another week to finish.

Gurga Chiya isn’t a flashy site; it doesn’t have a famous history (being prehistoric), or any buried gold or magnificent statues (except one small clay figurine of a goat, which is a little bit magnificent). What it does have is an important archaeological story about how people began to reorganise society into more complex, stratified forms. It also has lentils; lots and lots of lentils.

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