An ancient thirst for beer may have inspired agriculture, Stanford archaeologists say
Stanford researchers have found the oldest archaeological evidence of beer brewing, a discovery that supports the hypothesis that in some regions, beer may have been an underlying motivation to cultivate cereals.
‘Oldest record of man-made alcohol’
Evidence suggests that thousands of years ago, the Natufian people, a group of hunter-gatherers in the eastern Mediterranean, were quite the beer connoisseurs.
Liu and her research team analyzed residues from 13,000-year-old stone mortars found in the Raqefet Cave, a Natufian graveyard site located near what is now Haifa, Israel, and discovered evidence of an extensive beer-brewing operation.
“This accounts for the oldest record of man-made alcohol in the world,” Liu said.
The researchers believe that the Natufians brewed beer for ritual feasts that venerated the dead.
As Liu notes in the paper, the earliest bread remains to date were recently recovered from the Natufian site in east Jordan. Those could be from 11,600 to 14,600 years old. The beer finding she reports here could be from 11,700 to 13,700 years old.
Ancient beer brewing
Ancient beer is far from what we drink today. It was most likely a multi-ingredient concoction like porridge or thin gruel, said Jiajing Wang, a doctoral student in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and a co-author on the paper. Wang has helped Liu research ancient alcohol since 2015 when they first looked at 5,000-year-old brews in China before turning their attention to studying the Natufian culture.
In the Raqefet Cave, Liu and Wang unearthed residual remains of starch and microscopic plant particles known as phytolith, which are typical in the transformation of wheat and barley to booze.
The researchers believe that the Natufians used a three-stage brewing process. First, starch of wheat or barley would be turned into malt. This happens by germinating the grains in water to then be drained, dried and stored. Then, the malt would be mashed and heated. Finally, it would be left to ferment with airborne wild yeast.
Humanity, staggering through history for 12,000+ years.