Craft beer is a prehistoric beverage, proves evidence from 13,000-year-old cave
It seems like prehistoric people had a thirst for freshly brewed beer.
A recent study suggests that beer brewing practices existed in the Eastern Mediterranean over five millennia, before the earliest known evidence discovered in northern China.
As part of the study, archeologists analysed three stone mortars from a 13,000-year-old Natufian burial cave site in Israel. Their analysis confirmed that these mortars were used for the brewing of wheat/barley, as well as for food storage.
Li Liu, one of the researchers said, “Alcohol making and food storage were among the major technological innovations that eventually led to the development of civilizations in the world, and archaeological science is a powerful means to help reveal their origins and decode their contents.”
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.
Dani Nadel, another researcher said, “The Natufian remains in Raqefet Cave never stop surprising us. We exposed a Natufian burial area with about 30 individuals; a wealth of small finds such as flint tools, animal bones and ground stone implements, and about 100 stone mortars and cupmarks. Some of the skeletons are well-preserved and provided direct dates and even human DNA, and we have evidence for flower burials and wakes by the graves.”
“And now, with the production of beer, the Raqefet Cave remains to provide a very vivid and colourful picture of Natufian lifeways, their technological capabilities, and inventions,” He added.
After five seasons of excavations and a wide range of studies, the current study employed experimental archaeology, contextual examination, use-wear, and residue analyses. The results indicate that the Natufians exploited at least seven plant types associated with the mortars, including wheat or barley, oat, legumes and bast fibers (including flax). They packed plant-foods in fiber-made containers and stored them in boulder mortars. They used bedrock mortars for pounding and cooking plant-foods, and for brewing wheat/barley-based beer, likely served in ritual feasts 13,000 years ago.
The use-wear patterns and microbotanical assemblage suggest that two of the three examined boulder mortars were used as storage containers for plant foods including wheat/barley malts. Likely, they were covered with lids, probably made of stone slabs and other materials. The foods are likely to have been placed in baskets made of bast fibers for easy handing. The deep narrow shafts may have provided cool conditions suitable for storing food, especially for keeping cereal malts.
Combining use-wear and residue data, the third mortar studied was interpreted as a multi-functional vessel for food preparation, which included pounding plant foods and brewing wheat/barley-based beer, probably with legumes and other plants as additive ingredients.
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.
The full findings are present in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.
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