Watch a 4000-Year Old Babylonian Recipe for Stew, Found on a Cuneiform Tablet, Get Cooked by Researchers from Yale & Harvard

Walk like an Egyptian, but eat like an ancient Babylonian.

While cookbooks containing Mesopotamian fare do exist, to be really authentic, take your recipes from a clay tablet, densely inscribed in cuneiform.

Sadly, there are only four of them, and they reside in a display case at Yale. (Understandable given that they’re over 4000 years old.)

When Agnete Lassen, associate curator of Yale’s Babylonian Collection, and colleague Chelsea Alene Graham, a digital imaging specialist, were invited to participate in a culinary event hosted by New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, they wisely chose to travel with a 3D-printed facsimile of one of the precious tablets.




T’would have been a shame to knock the original off the counter while reaching for a bunch of leeks.

While other presenters prepared such delicacies as Fish Sauces at the Roman Table, Buddhist vegetarian dishes from the Song Dynasty, and a post-modern squid-ink spin on Medieval Blancmange, the Yale team joined chef Nawal Nasrallah and a crew from Harvard to recreate three one-pot dishes detailed on one of the ancient artifacts.

Judging by the above video, the clear winner was Tuh’i, a beet and lamb stew which Lassen describes as a “proto-borscht.”

The vegetarian Unwinding Stew’s name proved unnecessarily vexing, while the milk-based Broth of Lamb was unappetizing to the eye (as well as the palate, according to Graham). Perhaps they should have substituted animal blood—another favorite Babylonian thickener.

As one of Lassen’s predecessors, Professor William W. Hallo, told The New York Times in 1988, it’s unlikely the average Mesopotamian would have had the opportunity to tuck into any of these dishes. The vast quantities of speciality ingredients and the elaborate instructions suggest a festive meal for the elite.

In addition to the dishes served at NYU’s Appetite for the Past conference, the tablets include recipes for stag, gazelle, kid, mutton, squab, and a bird that’s referred to as “tarru."

Next time, perhaps.

And not to quibble with the Bulldogs, but the BBC reports that researchers from the University of Wales Institute are claiming a pudding made from nettles, ground barley, and water is actually the world’s oldest recipe, clocking in at 6000 BC. (Serve it with roast hedgehog and fish gut sauce…)

While the Yale team has yet to share its recipes in a language other than cuneiform, The Silk Road Gourmet has a good guide to various Mesopotamian spices and staples.

via Kottke/Yale

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Thursday June 28 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Simpsons Take on Ayn Rand: See the Show’s Satire of The Fountainhead and Objectivist Philosophy

Say what you will about the tenets of Objectivism—to take a fan favorite line from a little film about bowling and white Russians. At least it’s an ethos. As for Ayn Rand’s attempts to realize her "absurd philosophy" in fiction, we can say that she was rather less successful, in aesthetic terms, than literary philosophers like Albert Camus or Simone de Beauvoir. But that’s a high bar. When it comes to sales figures, her novels are, we might say, competitive.

Atlas Shrugged is sometimes said to be the second best-selling book next to the Bible (with a significant degree of overlap between their readerships). The claim is grossly hyperbolic. With somewhere around 7 million copies sold, Rand's most popular novel falls behind other capitalist classics like Think and Grow Rich. Still, along with The Fountainhead and her other ostensibly non-fictional works, Rand sold enough books to make her comfortable in life, even if she spent her last years on the dole.




Since her death, Rand's books have grown in popularity each decade, with a big spike immediately after the 2008 financial crisis. That popularity isn’t particularly hard to explain as an appeal to adolescent selfishness and grandiosity, and it has made her works ripe targets for satire—especially since they almost read like self-parody already. And who better to take on Rand than The Simpsons, reliable pop satirists of great American delusions since 1989?

The show’s take on The Fountainhead, above, has baby Maggie in the role of architect Howard Roark, the book’s genius individualist whose extraordinary talent is stifled by a critic named Ellsworth Toohey (a cardboard caricature of British theorist and politician Harold Laski). In this version, Toohey is a vicious preschool teacher in tweed, who insists on educating his charges in banality (“mediocrity rules!”) and knocks down Maggie’s block cathedral with a snide “welcome to the real world.”

In response to Toohey’s abuse, Maggie delivers a pompous soliloquy about her own greatness, as Rand’s heroes are wont to do. She is again subjected to preschool repression in the clip just above—this time not at the hands of a socialist critic but from the headmistress of the Ayn Rand School for Tots. The domineering disciplinarian tells Marge her aim is to “develop the bottle within” and dissuade her students from becoming “leeches,” a dig at Rand’s tendency—one sadly parroted by her acolytes—to dehumanize recipients of social benefits as parasites.

Readers of Roald Dahl will be reminded of Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull, and the barracks-like daycare, its walls lined with Objectivist slogans, becomes a site for some Great Escape capers. These sly references hint at a deeper critique—suggesting that the libertarian philosophy of hyper-individualism contains the potential for tyranny and terror as brutal as that of the most dogmatically collectivist of utopian schemes.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Get a First Glimpse of Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the “Cursed” Film 29 Years in the Making

One possible response to the tantalizing notion of a Terry Gilliam film about Don Quixote: How hasn't he made one already? Another possible response: Wait, hasn't he made one already? The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, which premiered at Cannes last month, arrives 29 years after Gilliam first started working on it — and 16 years after Lost in La Mancha, a well-received documentary about one of his failed attempts to shoot it. Long the perfect symbol of a "cursed" production doomed to an eternity in "development hell," it has somehow come back from the dead, resurrected by the sheer doggedness of Gilliam and his collaborators, time and time again.

The movie even survives John Hurt and Jean Rochefort, two of the stars previously signed on to play Quixote himself. (The list also includes Robert Duvall and Gilliam's fellow Python Michael Palin.) Jonathan Pryce, best known at the moment as Game of Thrones' High Sparrow, has ultimately taken on the role, having been attached to play others in the project over the previous decades. But just as Gilliam's film doesn't straightforwardly adapt Cervantes' classic of Spanish literature, Pryce doesn't straightforwardly portray Cervantes' iconic character. He does it, rather, through a Spanish shoemaker who truly believes he is Cervantes' iconic character, having played him in a student film years before.




The student filmmaker has grown up to become a cynical adman, one meant to be played in previous versions of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote by Robin Williams, Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor, and Jack O'Connell. In the trailer above you'll see the character played by Adam Driver, who in recent years has fast ascended into the realm of indie-film royalty. Whereas earlier scripts flung him back through time from modern day into 17th-century Spain, this one stays in the present and forces him to confront the outsized impact of his small film on the even smaller village in which he shot it. And so the story of the film, not just the story behind it, takes on themes of the unpredictable complications, consequences, and even dangers of filmmaking.

Those complications have ground on for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. The latest manifestation of the film's supposed curse takes the form of a lawsuit by a former producer, Paulo Branco, who insists he still owns the rights to it. Gilliam's current producer says otherwise, but their recent loss in the Paris Court of Appeals has given the notoriously forceful Branco reason — valid or not, nobody seems quite able to say — to publicly declare victory. Whichever party will finally have to cough up however much money to settle all of this, the epic journey of Gilliam's Don Quixote project looks as if it has entered its home stretch. However the world receives the film itself, Gilliam's fans can almost certainly look forward to another acclaimed documentary about it as well. 

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch Paul McCartney Sing Through the Streets of Liverpool on the Latest Episode “Carpool Karaoke”

Above, James Corden visits Liverpool and takes Paul McCartney on a trip down memory lane. The 23-minute segment features a little "carpool karaoke" and some live performances by Sir Paul. Songs on the playlist here include "Drive My Car," "Penny Lane," "Let It Be," "When I'm 64", "Blackbird," "Hard Day's Night," "Obladi Oblada," "Love Me Do," and "Hey Jude." Enjoy!

Would you like to support the mission of Open Culture? Please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us continue providing the best free cultural and educational materials to learners everywhere.

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Bill Murray Explains How He Pulled Himself Out of a Deep, Lasting Funk: He Took Hunter S. Thompson’s Advice & Listened to the Music of John Prine

Judging by the outpouring of affection in online comment sections, Chicago folk musician John Prine has helped a great many of his fans through tough times with his humanist, oft-humorous lyrics.

Add funny man Bill Murray to the list.

Taping a video in support of The Tree of Forgiveness, Prine’s first album of new material in over a decade, Murray recalled a grim period in which a deep funk robbed him of all enjoyment. Though he carefully stipulates that this “bummer” could not be diagnosed as clinical depression, nothing lifted his spirits, until Gonzo journalist Dr. Hunter S. Thompson—whom Murray embodied in the 1980 film, Where the Buffalo Roam—suggested that he turn to Prine for his sense of humor.




Murray took Thompson’s advice, and gave his fellow Illinoisian's double greatest hits album, Great Days, a listen.

This could have backfired, given that Great Days contains some of Prine’s most melancholy—and memorable—songs, from "Hello in There" and "Angel from Montgomery" to "Sam Stone," voted the 8th saddest song of all time in a Rolling Stone readers' poll.

But the song that left the deepest impression on Murray is a silly country-swing number "Linda Goes to Mars," in which a clueless husband assumes his wife’s vacant expression is proof of interplanetary travel rather than disinterest.

To hear Murray tell it, as he thumbs through a copy of John Prine Beyond Words, the moment was not one of gut-busting hilarity, but rather one of self-awareness and relief, a signal that the dark clouds that had been hanging over him would disperse.

A grateful Murray’s admiration runs deep. As he told The Washington Post, when he was awarded the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, he lobbied—unsuccessfully—to get Prine flown in for the ceremony:

I thought it would have been a nice deal because John Prine can make you laugh like no else can make you laugh.

Ditto Prine’s dear friend, the late, great folk musician, Steve Goodman, the author of "The Vegetable Song," "The Lincoln Park Pirates" (about a legendary Chicago towing company), and "Go, Cubs, Go," which Murray trilled on Saturday Night Live with players Dexter Fowler, Anthony Rizzo, and David Ross shortly before the Cubbies won the 2016 World Series.

I just found out yesterday that Linda goes to Mars

Every time I sit and look at pictures of used cars

She'll turn on her radio and sit down in her chair

And look at me across the room as if I wasn't there

Oh, my stars, my Linda's gone to Mars

Well, I wish she wouldn't leave me here alone

Oh, my stars, my Linda's gone to Mars

Well, I wonder if she'd bring me something home

Something, somewhere, somehow took my Linda by the hand

And secretly decoded our sacred wedding band

For when the moon shines down upon our happy humble home

Her inner space gets tortured by some outer space unknown

Oh, my stars, my Linda's gone to Mars

Well, I wish she wouldn't leave me here alone

Oh, my stars, my Linda's gone to Mars

Well, I wonder if she'd bring me something home

Now I ain't seen no saucers 'cept the ones upon the shelf

And if I ever seen one I'd keep it to myself

For if there's life out there somewhere beyond this life on earth

Then Linda must have gone out there and got her money's worth

Oh, my stars, my Linda's gone to Mars

Well, I wish she wouldn't leave me here alone

Oh, my stars, my Linda's gone to Mars

Well, I wonder if she'd bring me something home

Yeah, I wonder if she'd bring me something home

Listen to a Great Days Spotify playlist here, though neither Open Culture, nor Bill Murray can be held accountable if you find yourself blinking back tears.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Thursday June 28 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

A Brief, Visual Introduction to Surrealism: A Primer by Doctor Who Star Peter Capaldi

Surrealism, according to this short Unlock Art video from the Tate, began in Paris, at the cafe Les Deux Magots, in 1924. You can still go there, but among its habitués you won't find the fellow on whom the camera zooms in: André Breton, author of the Surrealist Manifesto. That influential text drew inspiration from the work of Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis, specifically his book The Interpretation of Dreams.

"Breton believed art and literature could represent the unconscious mind," says the video's narrator Peter Capaldi, well known as one of the Doctors of Doctor Who. He then names some artists who agreed with Breton on this point, such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, and Rene Magritte — just a few of the Surrealists. "Surreal," as an adjective, has perhaps fallen victim to debasement by overuse in the past 84 years. But Breton had specific ideas about Surrealism's potential effects, its sources of power, and its methods.

Desire, for instance, "was central to the Surrealist vision of love, poetry, and liberty. It was the key to understanding human beings." Surrealist artistic practices included putting objects "that were not normally associated with one another together, to make something that was playful and disturbing at the same time in order to stimulate the unconscious mind." Think of Dalí's 1936 Lobster Telephone, made out of those very objects. "It's about food and sex," Capaldi pronounces. The Surrealist vision also extended to more complicated endeavors, such as elaborate paintings and films that still fascinate today.

You can catch up on Surrealist film here on Open Culture, beginning with Luis Buñuel & Salvador Dalí's nightmarish 1929 short Un Chien Andalou, continuing on to the Surrealist feature Dreams That Money Can Buy (a collaboration by the likes of Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, Alexander Calder, Fernand Léger and Hans Richter), and the history of Surrealist cinema as presented by David Lynch, a filmmaker widely considered one of the movement's modern heirs. Whether Breton would recognize the Surrealist sensibility in its current manifestations will remain a matter of debate, but who could watch this Unlock Art primer and fail to sense the fascination its basic ideas — or basic compulsions, perhaps — still hold today?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

A New Massive Helen Keller Archive Gets Launched: Take a Digital Look at Her Photos, Letters, Speeches, Political Writings & More

Take an innocuous statement like, “we should teach children about the life of Helen Keller.” What reasonable, compassionate person would disagree? Hers is a story of triumph over incredible adversity, of perseverance and friendship and love. Now, take a statement like, “we should teach children the political writing of Helen Keller,” and you might see brawls in town halls and school board meetings. This is because Helen Keller was a committed socialist and serious political thinker, who wrote extensively to advocate for economic cooperation over competition and to support the causes of working people. She was an activist for peace and justice who opposed war, imperialism, racism, and poverty, conditions that huge numbers of people seem devoted to maintaining—both in her lifetime and today.

Keller’s moving, persuasive writing is eloquent and uncompromising and should be taught alongside that of other great American rhetoricians. Consider, for example, the passage below from a letter she wrote in 1916 to Oswald Villard, then Vice-President of the NAACP:

Ashamed in my very soul I behold in my own beloved south-land the tears of those who are oppressed, those who must bring up their sons and daughters in bondage to be servants, because others have their fields and vineyards, and on the side of the oppressor is power. I feel with those suffering, toiling millions, I am thwarted with them. Every attempt to keep them down and crush their spirit is a betrayal of my faith that good is stronger than evil, and light stronger than darkness…. My spirit groans with all the deaf and blind of the world, I feel their chains chafing my limbs. I am disenfranchised with every wage-slave. I am overthrown, hurt, oppressed, beaten to the earth by the strong, ruthless ones who have taken away their inheritance. The wrongs of the poor endure ring fiercely in my soul, and I shall never rest until they are lifted into the light, and given their fair share in the blessings of life that God meant for us all alike.

It is difficult to choose any one passage from the letter because the whole is written with such expressive feeling. This is but one document among many hundreds in the new Helen Keller archive at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), which has digitized letters, essays, speeches, photographs, and much more from Keller’s long, tireless career as a writer and public speaker. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the archive includes over 250,000 digital images of her work from the late 19th century to well into the 20th. There are many films of Keller, photos like that of her and her dog Sieglinde at the top, a collection of her correspondence with Mark Twain, and much more.

In addition to Keller’s own published and unpublished work, the archive contains many letters to and about her, press clippings, informative AFB blog posts, and resources for students and teachers. The site aims to be "fully accessible to audiences who are blind, deaf, hard-of-hearing, low vision, or deafblind." On the whole, this project “presents an opportunity to encounter this renowned historical figure in a new, dynamic, and exciting way," as AFB writes in a press release. "For example, despite her fame, relatively few people know that Helen Keller wrote 14 books as well as hundreds of essays and articles on a broad array of subjects ranging from animals and atomic energy to Mahatma Gandhi.”

And, of course, she was a lifelong advocate for the blind and deaf, writing and speaking out on disability rights issues for decades. Indeed, it’s difficult to find a subject in which she did not take an interest. The archive’s subject index shows her writing about games, sports, reading, shopping, swimming, travel, architecture and the arts, education, law, government, world religions, royalty, women’s suffrage, and more. There were many in her time who dismissed Keller’s unpopular views, calling her naïve and claiming that she had been duped by nefarious actors. The charge is insulting and false. Her body of work shows her to have been an extraordinarily well-read, wise, cosmopolitan, sensitive, self-aware, and honest critical thinker.

Two years after the NAACP letter, Keller wrote an essay called “Competition,” in which she made the case for “a better social order” against a central conceit of capitalism: that “life would not be worth while without the keen edge of competition,” and that without it “men would lose ambition, and the race would sink into dull sameness.” Keller advances her counterargument with vigorous and incisive reasoning.

This whole argument is a fallacy. Whatever is worth while in our civilization has survived in spite of competition. Under the competitive system the work of the world is badly done. The result is waste and ruin [….] Profit is the aim, and the public good is a secondary consideration. Competition sins against its own pet god efficiency. In spite of all the struggle, toil and fierce effort the result is a depressing state of destitution for the majority of mankind. Competition diverts man's energies into useless channels and degrades his character. It is immoral as well as inefficient, since its commandment is "Thou shalt compete against thy neighbor." Such a rule does not foster Truthfulness, honesty, consideration for others. [….] Competitors are indifferent to each other's welfare. Indeed, they are glad of each other's failure because they find their advantage in it. Compassion is deadened in them by the necessity they are under of nullifying the efforts of their fellow-competitors.

Keller refused to become cynical in the face of seemingly indefatigable greed, cruelty, and hypocrisy. Though not a member of a mainstream church (she belonged to the obscure Christian sect of Swedenborgianism), she exhorted American Christians to live up to their professions—to follow the example of their founder and the commandments of their sacred text. In an essay written after World War I, she argued movingly for disarmament and “the vital issue of world peace.” While making a number of logical arguments, Keller principally appeals to the common ethos of the nation’s dominant faith.

This is precisely where we have failed, calling ourselves Christians we have fundamentally broken, and taught others to break most patriotically, the commandment of the Lord, “Thou shalt not kill” [….] Let us then try out Christianity upon earth—not lip-service, but the teaching of Him who came upon earth that “all men might have life, and have it more abundantly.” War strikes at the very heart of this teaching.

We can hear Helen Keller’s voice speaking directly to us from the past, diagnosing the ills of her age that look so much like those of our own. “The mythological Helen Keller,” writes Keith Rosenthal, “has aptly been described as a sort of ‘plaster saint;’ a hollow, empty vessel who is little more than an apolitical symbol for perseverance and personal triumph.” Though she embodied those qualities, she also dedicated her entire life to careful observation of the world around her, to writing and speaking out on issues that mattered, and to caring deeply about the welfare of others. Get to know the real Helen Keller, in all her complexity, fierce intelligence, and ferocious compassion, at the American Foundation for the Blind’s exhaustive digital archive of her life and work.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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