Brewing: Prehistoric & Historic Significance

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#1
The only comment posted so far suggests the cavemen were making beer.

Pass the Sorghum, Caveman
http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/co ... 009/1217/2
By Cassandra Willyard
ScienceNOW Daily News
17 December 2009

Conventional wisdom holds that early humans survived on a diet of meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and the occasional tuber. Our love affair with cereals supposedly came later, about 20,000 years ago. But a new study hints that wild cereals were part of the human diet more than 100,000 years ago.

Making cereals palatable is hard work. They have to be roasted in a fire or pounded into flour and cooked. Because the process is energy-intensive and requires specialized tools, many archeologists assumed that humans didn't begin consuming mass quantities of cereal until the advent of farming about 10,000 years ago. Then in 2004, researchers reported finding a residue of barley and wheat on a 23,000-year-old grinding stone in Israel. The new study indicates that cereal consumption is "a lot older than that," says author Julio Mercader, an archeologist at the University of Calgary in Canada.

Two years ago, Mercader and colleagues excavated a cave in Mozambique called Ngalue. They uncovered an assortment of stone tools in a layer of sediment deposited on the cave floor 42,000 to 105,000 years ago. The tools can't be directly dated, but Mercader presumes that the ones buried deepest in the layer are at least 100,000 years old. Other researchers had identified tubers as an important food source during the Stone Age, so Mercader decided to check for starch residue on 70 stone tools from the cave, including scrapers, grinders, points, flakes, and drills.

About 80% of the tools had ample starchy residue, Mercader reports today in Science. The starches came from the African wine palm, the false banana, pigeon peas, wild oranges, and the African potato. But the vast majority--89%--came from sorghum, a grass that is still a dietary staple in many parts of Africa.

According to Mercader, the findings suggest that people living in Ngalue routinely brought starchy plants, including sorghum, to their cave. He doesn't have definitive evidence that they ate the grass but says it seems likely. "Why would you be bringing sorghum into the cave unless you are doing something with it?" he asks. "The simplest explanation is that it would be a food item."

Curtis Marean, an archeologist at Arizona State University in Tempe, isn't sure. "Grasses can be used for many things," he notes, such as bedding or kindling. Even if Ngalue's residents were dining on sorghum more than 100,000 years ago, Marean doubts that it was a major food source. "The processing costs of wild grasses are so high," he says, "and most African environments have a diversity of far more productive foods for hunter-gatherers."

Huw Barton, an archeologist at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom, is skeptical as well. He points out that Mercader found sorghum residue on tools that likely wouldn't be used to process cereals, such as drills. "That doesn't make any sense to me," he says.

Still, says Robin Torrence, an archeologist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, the study is "tantalizing, because it expands the role of plants beyond the roots and tubers that previous scholars ... predicted would have been staples of early hominid diets."
 

Kingsize Wombat

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#2
There is more evidence now that brewing preceded farming:

The earliest archaeological evidence for cereal-based beer brewing even before the advent of agriculture comes from the Natufians, semi-sedentary, foraging people, living in the Eastern Mediterranean between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic periods, following the last Ice Age. The Natufians at Raqefet Cave collected locally available plants, stored malted seeds, and made beer as a part of their rituals.

The evidence of beer brewing at Raqefet Cave 13,000 years ago provides yet another example of the complex Natufian social and ritual realms. Beer brewing may have been, at least in part, an underlying motivation to cultivate cereals in the southern Levant, supporting the beer hypothesis proposed by archaeologists more than 60 years ago.
https://popular-archaeology.com/article/a-prehistoric-thirst-for-craft-beer/

I've always thought the "beer hypothesis" made a lot of sense. I mean, what is more likely to persuade people to settle down: A beer - or flat bread?

And then there's Göbekli Tepe - a temple before the advent of farming - right near where lots of wheat was growing naturally. And plenty of evidence of feasting. And there you have it: A giant BBQ pit with beer brewing facilities right at the door step. Makes sense to me.
 

James_H

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#4
In Orkney I once met an archeologist-and-brewer couple who were doing some experimental archaeology, trying out how beer might have been made using some of the ancient sites there (the demonstration I saw was at Liddle Burnt Mound,a bronze age site on South Ronaldsay)

Here's their site: as I recall, she was also a subscriber to FT.

ancient malt and ale
 

mgdineley

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#6
In Orkney I once met an archeologist-and-brewer couple who were doing some experimental archaeology, trying out how beer might have been made using some of the ancient sites there (the demonstration I saw was at Liddle Burnt Mound,a bronze age site on South Ronaldsay)

Here's their site: as I recall, she was also a subscriber to FT.

ancient malt and ale
|That is us, Merryn and Graham Dineley. We have been researching prehistoric brewing for 20 years now. Here is a link to the academic work : https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Merryn_Dineley and here is a link to the most recent English Heritage blog : http://blog.english-heritage.org.uk/neolithic-drink-at-feasts/.

More later.
 

James_H

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|That is us, Merryn and Graham Dineley. We have been researching prehistoric brewing for 20 years now. Here is a link to the academic work : https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Merryn_Dineley and here is a link to the most recent English Heritage blog : http://blog.english-heritage.org.uk/neolithic-drink-at-feasts/.

More later.
How about that! An invocation. Hi Merryn and Graham, I found your demonstration super interesting, as you may guess since I remember it ten years on. Looking forward to hearing more.
 

AlchoPwn

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#8
Actually there is reasonable evidence to suggest that beer may have been the primary motivator for the creation of agriculture and urbanization.
https://allthatsinteresting.com/history-of-beer
For years archaeologists have been viewing the creation of beer as an industry that grew out of the making of bread, but there is an equally plausible counter theory that the beer was the primary motivation an the bread was entirely secondary.

As to the issue of sorghum, I once had the misfortune of trying a Chinese sorghum wine that was truly awful. It smelled exactly like a naturopathic remedy for thrush, and had a taste that made me want to rinse my mouth out. Malt and ale are much kinder.
 

Kingsize Wombat

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#9
but there is an equally plausible counter theory that the beer was the primary motivation an the bread was entirely secondary.
That's exactly what I meant by the "beer theory" - that brewing came before baking. I have no problem believing that. I mean, we are still building shrines to booze, aren't we?
 

James_H

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If I recall correctly, the Inca people had breweries for making beer for extremely special religious occasions involving child sacrifice. Drinking alcohol at any other time was strictly illegal and punishable by death.
 

Xanatic*

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#12
Hello Dineleys! The nearby national museum also has a beer they created based on what was found in the grave of Egtved-pigen. It tastes like a weak wheat beer really. That grave is only 3500 years old though.
 

Kingsize Wombat

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#13
If I recall correctly, the Inca people had breweries for making beer for extremely special religious occasions
As did other cultures with other psycho-active substances. And the use required initiation by a shaman of sorts. My thinking is that they were aware of the potentially devastating consequences of unregulated usage.

And today we also know of the high cost of alcohol in our society, but it's a price we are willing to pay. Perhaps because we have so many more resources and people.
 

James_H

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#14
As did other cultures with other psycho-active substances. And the use required initiation by a shaman of sorts. My thinking is that they were aware of the potentially devastating consequences of unregulated usage.

And today we also know of the high cost of alcohol in our society, but it's a price we are willing to pay. Perhaps because we have so many more resources and people.
See also smoking tobacco. Though in Europe, haven't we always (I mean for a long time) drunk alcohol casually?
 

James_H

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Hello Dineleys! The nearby national museum also has a beer they created based on what was found in the grave of Egtved-pigen. It tastes like a weak wheat beer really. That grave is only 3500 years old though.
Which national museum is that?
 

Kingsize Wombat

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#16
See also smoking tobacco. Though in Europe, haven't we always (I mean for a long time) drunk alcohol casually?
Yes, absolutely. But there is always a cost associated. I presume societies as a whole build up a certain amount of tolerance to the stuff. Indigenous populations that didn't use alcohol were / are more severely affected by alcoholism.

People like the Aborigines here, or the Natives of North America are suffering terrible rates of alcoholism, far higher than that of the European populations.

So I'm thinking ancient cultures found out that booze (and other things) needed to be regulated so that society as a whole wouldn't be affected.
 

James_H

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Yes, absolutely. But there is always a cost associated. I presume societies as a whole build up a certain amount of tolerance to the stuff. Indigenous populations that didn't use alcohol were / are more severely affected by alcoholism.
I vaguely recall (sorry I can't be more specific, would be great if anyone could help out) hearing out a book which argued that much of European history makes more sense once you realise that everyone was pissed all the time when they were making decisions.
 

Kingsize Wombat

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#18
I vaguely recall (sorry I can't be more specific, would be great if anyone could help out) hearing out a book which argued that much of European history makes more sense once you realise that everyone was pissed all the time when they were making decisions.
It does make sense when you consider that beer for a long time was a safer drink than water.

If anyone know what book this is, I'd like to check it out.
 

Yithian

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#19
It does make sense when you consider that beer for a long time was a safer drink than water.

If anyone know what book this is, I'd like to check it out.
Exactly what I was about to post.

If they were brewing proto-beer (perhaps the first ever batch was dicovered by accident while attempting something else in the way of medicine or purification), and then discovered that in addition to being safer it had intoxicating properties, it's natural enough to attribute the medicinal effect to spiritual agency. From there the whole practice with botanical, agricultural and chemical aspects becomes ritualised and the lore associated with successful brewing is dogma.

Show me the grave of a neolithic beer-priest!
 

Xanatic*

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#21
Yet a lot of the enlightenment stuff seems to have coincided with people drinking in coffee houses instead of bars.

The national museum I mentioned is the one in Copenhagen.
 

James_H

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#23
It does make sense when you consider that beer for a long time was a safer drink than water.
This is not true: people did generally have access to fresh, clean water in the middle ages (and presumably before: rain water and springs). They just really liked drinking beer (and very weak beer: a typical peasant would drink gallons a day of the stuff). 'People used to drink beer because water was unsanitary' is a historical myth similar to 'people used spices to mask rotten meat'.

Here's an interesting page on which someone tries to recreate mediaeval-style ales

I've read on another forum that even if you get all the other details right, it's impossible to really know what any historical beer would taste like because yeast mutates so fast.

Wikipedia has a great quote on the 'history of beer page' decrying beer (as opposed to 'ale', which at that time meant beer with no hops) as a foreign menace threatening the good constitution of true Englishmen:

Ale is made of malte and water; and they the which do put any other thynge to ale than is rehersed, except yest, barme, or goddesgood [three words for yeast], doth sophysticat there ale. Ale for an Englysshe man is a naturall drinke. Ale muste haue these properties, it muste be fresshe and cleare, it muste not be ropy, nor smoky, nor it must haue no wefte nor tayle. Ale shulde not be dronke vnder .v. dayes olde …. Barly malte maketh better ale than Oten malte or any other corne doth … Beere is made of malte, of hoppes, and water; it is a naturall drynke for a doche [Dutch] man, and nowe of late dayes it is moche vsed in Englande to the detryment of many Englysshe men … for the drynke is a colde drynke. Yet it doth make a man fatte, and doth inflate the bely, as it doth appere by the doche mennes faces and belyes.
Andrewe Boorde. A Compendyous Regymentor a Dyetary of helth. (1557)

As to the issue of sorghum, I once had the misfortune of trying a Chinese sorghum wine that was truly awful. It smelled exactly like a naturopathic remedy for thrush, and had a taste that made me want to rinse my mouth out. Malt and ale are much kinder.
I imagine it's an acquired taste; consider that fine single malt whisky also tastes appalling to someone who's not used to it. Ironically I think that the most 'prized' styles of Chinese wine are also the most 'challenging'.

Isn't it possible the prehistoric finds are evidence of creating 'mash' from grain, rather than a fully-brewed 'beer' product?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashing
Yes, but why make mash if not making beer?
 
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Yithian

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#26
It's a truth universally acknowledge that every man's first batch of homebrew tastes like crap.

They probably reached a tolerably drinkable and safer beverage by quality incremements of trial and error.
 

EnolaGaia

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#27
So, gruel/proto-Horlicks?
Yeah, that's what I'm thinking ... I can see where prehistoric folks developed a gruel approach to exploiting grains for food, then discovered that if left long enough it had a mysterious 'kick' to it.

In contrast, I have a hard time believing they created the whole process leading to the beverage at one stroke.
 

James_H

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#28
In contrast, I have a hard time believing they created the whole process leading to the beverage at one stroke.
I agree, though some things ferment more easily than others. Beer is a somewhat more complex process than, say, fruit wines. I've bought sugar cane juice that spontaneously turned into wine* almost as soon as I bought it, presumably from wild airborne yeasts. Similarly, you can get some beers like Lambic from Belgium which are entirely brewed with location-specific wild yeasts (I tried some Lambic for the first time the other day – it's incredibly acidic, like scrumpy).

Stuff like sake/mijiu/soju is technically beer as it's made of grain rather than fruit – the process to make that is fairly simple in its essentials (though the process of making high-quality sake is of course extremely complex and detailed). It would make sense that people were making rice porridge first, as you suggest, which caught some yeast and spontaneously turned into booze – then the process was refined.

*not very nice wine.
 

Yithian

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#30
I'm about to start my first, I'll let you know how it goes!
A friend of mine started by following a recipe from the 1880s that involved putting a cooked chicken in the barrels (whole). The taste wasn't necessarily what you'd call 'bad', but it was more like alcoholic chicken juice.
 
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