Saloons in the wild west and taverns in Mesopotamia: Explorations along the timeline of public drinking

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Two serendipitous occurrences occurred during a comparative study among the archaeological ruins of a handful of diverse, nineteenth-century boomtown saloons in northern Nevada's Virginia City. The first involved an experiment to retrieve DNA from a tobacco pipestem recovered from one of these establishments; the pipestem is associated with late nineteenth-century stratigraphic deposits from an African American saloon. The DNA profile indicates that a woman used the pipe, evoking questions about gender roles in Virginia City's saloons. The second incident involved an examination of an image from a Near Eastern cylinder seal from the third millennium BC. The image depicted men and women taking part in communal drinking and presents some of the earliest recorded forms of drinking in ancient Mesopotamia. Other, second millennium BC documentation from that region describe laws associated with women and drinking houses in urban centers such as Babylon. This influenced interpretations about the various levels of interaction between men and women in public drinking over the course of literate history. These events - one based on scientific methods and the other based on a text-aided approach to archaeology - induced a gender-based research agenda that complements studies of the antiquity of public drinking houses. This paper describes that agenda, presents case studies that represent different points on the timeline of public drinking, and advocates an archaeological approach that fuses scientific and humanistic research methods.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBetween Dirt and Discussion
Subtitle of host publicationMethods, Methodology, and Interpretation in Historical Archaeology
PublisherSpringer US
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)0387342184, 9780387342184
StatePublished - 2006


  • African American archaeology
  • Cylinder seals
  • DNA
  • Gender
  • Historical archaeology
  • Laws of Hammurabi
  • Public drinking
  • Saloons
  • Taverns
  • Text-aided archaeology
  • Virginia City


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