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15th century disposable cups found in Martin Luther's Wittenberg

Single-use cups aren't a modern invention. Archaeologists have discovered the shards of thousands of porcelain cups in eastern Germany that were thrown away by wealthy revelers over 500 years ago.

15th century disposable cups found in Martin Luther's Wittenberg
Broken porcelain cups from 15th c. celebrations at Wittenberg Castle [Credit: Jan Woitas]
During a 15th-century outdoor party in the castle courtyard of the Schloss Wittenberg in eastern Germany, guests feasted on wild venison and drank to their heart's content. When their cups were empty, they simply tossed them over their shoulders, where they crashed onto the tiles covering the courtyard.

"We found entire layers of cups and animal bones. They ate a lot of wild meat, especially venison," Holger Rode, the archaeologist in charge of the dig in the castle's courtyard in Wittenberg, told German news service dpa. "The parties took place in the summer here in the courtyard. The cups were simply thrown away. That's equivalent to paper cups today."

15th century disposable cups found in Martin Luther's Wittenberg
Archaeologist Holger Rode with colourful cup fragments [Credit: Jan Woitas]
Except that porcelain mugs decorated with roll stamps and mask designs likely provided a more luxurious drinking experience. Disposable dishes were a sign of great wealth at the time and only the nobility used them at the castle.

According to Rode, the cups discovered by his team were only used at the Wittenberg castle and had been created to be used just once. "All the noble families celebrated - the House of Ascania up to 1422 and then the House of Wettin, and they all threw the cups away," said Rode.

15th century disposable cups found in Martin Luther's Wittenberg
Detail of two broken cups [Credit: Jan Woitas]
Frederick III (1463-1525) began building the castle and a church on the site of a former Ascania castle in 1480. Archaeologists began excavating the site in November and have found portions of a curtain wall, remains of the Ascania castle, as well as original tiles from the subsequent castle's oven.

It was in Wittenberg that church reformer Martin Luther posted his famous 95 theses in 1517. He was said to have owned an oven similar to that found in the dig. "Ovens of that kind were incredibly expensive due to their multi-colored tiles," archaeologist Harald Meller told dpa. "Luther must have received the oven as a gift from a ruler or cardinal."

2017 marks the 500th anniversary of Luther's letter and is being celebrated with special events all year.

Source: Deutsche Welle [January 10, 2017]

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