Archaeologists working in Israel recently uncovered 13,000-year-old evidence of ancient beer. The discovery predates the previously-accepted origin of brewing by around six thousand years, and supports a 60-year-old hypothesis that mankind may have domesticated cereals for beer production, not bread.
The research team, led by Stanford University professor of Chinese archaeology Li Liu, uncovered brewing tools used by the ancient Natufian people at a graveyard site near Haifa, Stanford News reports. The tools, including stone mortars, contained evidence of beer brewing in collected residue samples.
The team’s findings were published in a paper in the “Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.” In the paper, Liu notes the earliest bread remains, which were recently uncovered in another Natufian site, could be anywhere from 11,600 to 14,600 years old. The brewing tools uncovered in Israel are between 11,700 to 13,700 years old, meaning that brewing could potentially be older than bread.
“This accounts for the oldest record of man-made alcohol in the world,” Liu said to Stanford News.
Regardless of whether beer or bread came first, both discoveries precede evidence of domesticated cereals in the area, which are believed to have arrived around 4,000 years later.
“This discovery indicates that making alcohol was not necessarily a result of agricultural surplus production,” Liu said, “but it was developed for ritual purposes and spiritual needs, at least to some extent, prior to agriculture.”
The study’s co-author, Jiajing Wang, said, “Beer-making was an integral part of rituals and feasting, a social regulatory mechanism in hierarchical societies.”
The more things change, the more they stay the same, it seems.