A cave in Israel may be the oldest brewry site in the world. Archaeologists have found traces that indicate that cereals were turned into a beverage close to beer a few millennia before the beginning of agriculture.
Taking an alcoholic drink in the sun on a hot summer day is a tradition that goes back a long way. Long before ancient Europeans began brewing beer, people in northern China had also mastered the production of alcohol from grains such as rice.
Until recently, the oldest traces of alcoholic beverages had been found in Asia and dated back to 7000 BC.
However, researchers at Stanford University have just postponed this millennia-old record. Their work at the archaeological site of Raqefet , near Haifa, Israel, shows traces of brewing of a 13,000-year-old beer-like drink. More impressively, this fermentation of cereals would be voluntary, not accidental or as a by-product of breadmaking.
This is not the first time that the people who used this cave is in the news. This group of hunter-gatherers from the end of the last Ice Age, known as the Natufians, was also one of the first to produce bread, traces of which have recently been found in another archaeological site in Jordan. .
Ancestral recipe in honor of the deceased
The new discovery was made in a cave that the Natufians used as a burial place. The remains of about thirty humans were found, the latter having sometimes been buried on a bed of flowers.
However, about 100 stone crucibles, formed on the rocky soil, were also found on site and were used to grind and store several types of plants. It is by analyzing the organic contents found inside these crucibles that the researchers discovered the indices of a form of mixing.
Some of these particles, such as starch, are typical of certain stages of cereal to beer processing. The particles found in the crucibles indicated that the Natufians worked with at least seven types of plants, including wheat, barley, oats and some vegetables.
In addition to the different plants, the tool marks left in the crucibles indicated that what was consumed passed through three phases of transformation. First, the seeds were sprouted and then allowed to dry to turn into malt. They were then crushed and boiled for several hours. And finally, they were stored for a few days, enough for the fermentation process to take place.
To check if the liquid obtained was similar to beer, the researchers recreated in the laboratory the conditions identified in the crucibles, thus brewing their own “natoufian beer”.
However, the resulting liquid was quite far from the beers we know today and, according to researchers, was more like gruel. The alcohol level was also much lower than today.
Nevertheless, this discovery remains historically important and the presence of this brewing equipment in a funeral site indicates, according to the researchers, that alcoholic beverages probably had a ritual role.
These also raise a second point, more controversial, that the beer could be produced before the first loaves. The oldest traces of bread date back to between 11,000 and 14,000 years ago.
Further discoveries of this type will be needed in archaeological sites before this chronology can be confirmed. This new study, however, indicates that beer is one of the important elements in the domestication of cereals and the advent of agriculture.
Based in Mississauga, Frank Sinjat is a Senior Editor at Spruce Tribune. Previously he has worked for SprotsNet and the Hockey News. Frank is a graduate of Sports Recreation and Leisure at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. You can reach Fredrick via email or by phone