Turkish Flatbread Recipe – Traditional Tahini Butter Flat Bread Credit: Easy Turkish Recipes
While writing my next novel, I am faced with the need to calculate the storage requirements of food needed to support folks per year and multiple years to survive natural or supernatural events that would make planting grain impossible for a year or more. To avoid providing story spoilers, I will simply focus upon how this might be done using technology available in the late Ubaid (early Uruk) period.
To keep matters simple, I focused on the need to provide a 2,000-calorie diet for men, 1,500 for women, and 750 for children under 10 (where those over 10 were moved up to adult requirements). The 2,000-calorie minimum diet for active men is based upon Dr. Ian Morris‘s estimate in Post 117 (put his name in the Search bar for many other posts on his work) and the rations for women and children are based in proportion to average body weight.
Wheat grain is the appropriate crop for my calculations, providing 3,450 calories per kilogram, wheat density being 790 kilograms per cubic meter, which translates into 2,725,500 calories per cubic meter. On Dr. Morris’s minimal 2,000 calorie diet, a man could survive 1,363 days on a cubic meter of wheat. A family of 2 adult males (over 10 years old), 2 adult women and 1 child could survive about 352 days on one M³. To keep things simple, we’ll round that to one family-year per M³ of wheat.
The next thing I needed to know was how to store grain to raise the odds that it wouldn’t mildew or acquire another mold (the good news is we’re talking an arid climate) and wouldn’t be ruined by vermin or just rot. Once the cylinder of bricks, with a brick bottom is completed, we would build a single fire inside it. Wood fuel was and still is rare in lower Mesopotamia, but you can make a pretty good fire of dry twigs, canes and grass) which will lightly fire the surface of the bricks, all of which would already be sun-dried. That’s the best we can do in Mesopotamia 5,700 years ago, lacking abundant fuel.
Below are the tables of my calculations
From the tables, a family of four needs to make about 350 mud bricks, build a brick-sided and bottomed cylinder with them, and fill it with four cubic meters of wheat to squirrel away enough to eat after this year’s harvest and during the three following years which are expected to be a harsh, zero-harvest drought.
Similarly, singles need to make about 150 sun-dried mud bricks, build a smaller bin detailed above, to build a stockpile capable of feeding them for the same harsh conditions.
Now, you and I don’t know what’s coming next year. If it’s global warming, the more benign divergence hypothesis, we can act like grasshoppers in an Aesop fable and not change our way of living.
But, if it’s a 5.9Kya Event multi-century drought and chill, with regional and timing differences in intensity, we ignore it at our peril.
Of course, we are all playing the game of life, don’t know what’s coming, could make very bad decisions if we guess wrong and a low probability directional change of climate does happen, or we could save a lot of tummy acid and public demonstrating if nothing happens and we’re living in our deep bunker with a multi-year stock of food while the sun’s shining on a beautiful spring day.
So, I have the calculations I need at this moment to continue writing my novel. Most of my characters probably won’t put them into use. I’m sure they’ll say, “Who are these quacks saying that we’re going to fall into the hands of an angry god—when we’ve got a dozen of our own?”
Do you think a Paleolithic man cannot make something big out of baked bricks? This video is for you.
Think the same guy couldn’t make a house with a tiled roof? This video is for you.
Do you know people are still making sun-dried bricks the old-fashioned way, with a smidgen of added technology—Neolithic, not Paleolithic, woodworking quality. Here’s one of many videos available that prove it.
And, if you’d like a real research paper focused upon the grain economy of Mesopotamia, albeit starting at the end of the 4th millennium (my novel is set in the middle) here’s a link to a 2015 dissertation titled Grain Storage and the Moral Economy in Mesopotamia (3000-2000 BC) by Tate Paulette at the University of Chicago (the Oriental Institute). At the page’s bottom, click “Download the full text of this dissertation in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF)”. There’s great detail in here, it’s easy to read, and it’s now in my PDF library as the best I’ve seen on storage facilities.
I now have what I need to resume writing the novel with reasonably thought-out plans. I chose to use cylindrical storage rather than rectangular so I can place the storage unit in the middle of a rectangular living quarter using minimal space, no corners, and providing easy access on all sides.
Thanks for visiting,
R. E. J. Burke