Free Republic
Browse · Search
General/Chat
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Beer Domesticated Man
Nautilus ^ | December 19, 2013 | Gloria Dawson

Posted on 12/19/2013 5:54:42 AM PST by Second Amendment First

The domestication of wild grains has played a major role in human evolution, facilitating the transition from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one based on agriculture. You might think that the grains were used for bread, which today represents a basic staple. But some scientists argue that it wasn’t bread that motivated our ancestors to start grain farming. It was beer. Man, they say, chose pints over pastry.

Beer has plenty to recommend it over bread. First, and most obviously, it is pleasant to drink. “Beer had all the same nutrients as bread, and it had one additional advantage,” argues Solomon H. Katz, an anthropology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. Namely, it gave early humans the same pleasant buzz it gives us. Patrick E. McGovern, the director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania, goes even further. Beer, he says, was more nutritious than bread. It contains “more B vitamins and [more of the] essential amino acid lysine,” McGovern writes in his book, Uncorking the Past: the Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages. It was also safer to drink than water, because the fermentation process killed pathogenic microorganisms. “With a four to five percent alcohol content, beer is a potent mind-altering and medicinal substance,” McGovern says, adding that ancient brewers acted as medicine men.

In fact, McGovern has found that the ancients used beer as medicine. Working with the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania, McGovern discovered traces of sage and thyme in ancient Egyptian jars. Luteolin, which is in sage, and ursolic acid, which is in thyme, both have anti-cancer properties. Similarly, artemisinin and isoscopolein from wormwood fight cancer, and were found in ancient Chinese rice wine. “The ancient fermented beverages constituted the universal medicine of humankind before the advent of synthetic medicines,” McGovern says.

Beer also played an important societal role in bonding early communities together. It was popular at religious ceremonies, communal events, and celebrations. Brian Hayden, an archaeology professor at Simon Fraser University in Canada, believes that communal feasting fostered social bonding—and lots of beer was consumed during those feasts. Moreover, beer was thought to be a necessary component in the afterlife—throughout the Middle East, the dead were buried with jugs of frothy refreshments. It was even used as currency—in Egypt, the pyramid workers were paid in beer.

The beer thesis is not universally accepted, however, and the debate over its truth goes back to the 1950s. It was around then that Robert Braidwood, a leading scholar in Middle East prehistory at The University of Chicago, discovered sickles and hollow casts of grain in clay in the early settlements of the Natufians, who from 13,000 to 9,000 B.C. inhabited a region in the Eastern Mediterranean which is now Syria, Jordan, and Israel. Braidwood argued that domestication of wild barley motivated early humans to build permanent homes and switch to a sedentary way of life. Others have since extended this argument.

The great advantage of grain is that it didn’t spoil like fruit or berries, and could be kept for months and used as needed. That motivated our ancestors to build permanent structures to store their grains and homes close to their fields—which in turn led to the creation of villages. Archeologists have found stone silos dating from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age at sites in the Middle East.

Braidwood believed Natufians used the grain as food, and not for fermentation. But his work lead to a symposium titled “Did Man Once Live on Beer Alone?” Braidwood’s main opponent, Jonathan Sauer, a botanist at the University of Wisconsin, took a firm pro-beer stand. Sauer argued that growing grain with the primitive tools Natufians had would gain them a “pitifully small return of grain for their labor.” Natufians had to have been motivated by something more rewarding than mere food, Sauer believed. “Thirst rather than hunger may have been the stimulus behind the origin of small grain agriculture,” he said.

The symposium came to little consensus, but the debate continued. In the 1980s, Katz concluded from his own research that there was little evidence of bread’s popularity among the ancient tribes of the Middle East, particularly the Levant. To bolster his claim, Katz used a well-preserved sample of carbonized plant remains from about 7,000 to 6,000 B.C. recovered from the Ali Kosh site in southwestern Iran, where only 3.4 percent of the plants were domesticated cereals. If cereals didn’t make up a large part of early humans’ diet, what motivated them to begin to farm these grains? Katz argued they were farming and storing the grain to make beer.

Today, the earliest chemical evidence of barley-based beer is at the Godin Tepe archaeological site near the Iran and Iraq border, and dates back to 3,500 B.C. But scientists believe that grain-based fermented drinks have a much longer history than that, and were used around the world. “It isn’t just wheat and barley in the Middle East,” says McGovern. “It’s rice in China—rice wine was made from grain, similar to beer. It’s corn in the new world—Chicha is made from corn.”

How did man originally discover beer? McGovern and Katz theorize that man first learned to make some sort of gruel from barley. Then, natural yeast, likely supplied by insects, would have fermented the gruel, leading to a primitive form of a beer. Beer was actually easier to make than bread. Once early humans sipped these ancient suds—whether barley, corn, or rice-based—they began cultivating grain, becoming sedentary creatures. “All of these grains could have jump-started civilization as we know it because you really have to stick around the whole year to take care of your plants,” McGovern says.

In 2010, Hayden and his colleagues set off to prove that the primitive tools of the Paleolithic era, such as mortar and pestle, were sufficient for brewing. The team created three different types of beer using the ancient grains—einkorn wheat, rye, and barley. “They all tasted a bit bland,” Hayden admits, but the brews had about 2.5 percent alcohol content—enough to pique early man’s interest.

“The question is really a no-brainer,” McGovern writes. “If you had to choose today, which would it be: bread or beer?”

Gloria Dawson is a journalist based in New York City, where she writes about science, food, and other topics. Her writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Geographic online, Modern Farmer, and Quartz, among other publications.


TOPICS: Agriculture; Food; History; Society
KEYWORDS: agriculture; alcohol; anthropology; beer; godsgravesglyphs; males; psychology; zymurgy
“If you had to choose today, which would it be: bread or beer?”

Beer! Then BBQ.

1 posted on 12/19/2013 5:54:42 AM PST by Second Amendment First
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First
Beer. Is there anything it can't do?

/johnny

2 posted on 12/19/2013 6:05:45 AM PST by JRandomFreeper (Gone Galt)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

I guess the corollary to this is the saying about giving a man a fish and he will eat for one day, teach a man to fish and he’ll sit in the boat on the lake all day drinking beer.


3 posted on 12/19/2013 6:07:26 AM PST by T-Bird45 (It feels like the seventies, and it shouldn't.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

Beer. It’s not just for breakfast anymore.


4 posted on 12/19/2013 6:20:50 AM PST by newheart (The worst thing the Left ever did was to convince the world it was not a religion.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First
It was even used as currency—in Egypt, the pyramid workers were paid in beer.

It would be interesting to see the documentation behind that factoid.

It IS my perfect recovery drink after a basketball session with those 40-50-60 year old kids; a few pints and a couple of aspirin...I can actually walk he next day!

5 posted on 12/19/2013 6:23:57 AM PST by JimRed (Excise the cancer before it kills us; feed & water the Tree of Liberty! TERM LIMITS NOW & FOREVER!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/how-beer-saved-the-world/


6 posted on 12/19/2013 6:24:45 AM PST by Red_Devil 232 (VietVet - USMC All Ready On The Right? All Ready On The Left? All Ready On The Firing Line!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Red_Devil 232
I was just thinking of that documentary. It's great to watch with friends while drinking quality beer.

I particularly like the duck pond water beer scene.

/johnny

7 posted on 12/19/2013 6:27:18 AM PST by JRandomFreeper (Gone Galt)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

OLD Theory.
I came up with this idea independently in college when I was taking an anthropology course, but it was already out there then - in the late ‘80s.


8 posted on 12/19/2013 6:31:44 AM PST by Little Ray (How did I end up in this hand-basket, and why is it getting so hot?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

BEER.. because BEER has food value.


9 posted on 12/19/2013 6:32:47 AM PST by maddog55 (Alpha Male)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First
How did man originally discover beer?


10 posted on 12/19/2013 6:42:55 AM PST by Night Hides Not (For every Ted Cruz we send to DC, I can endure 2-3 "unviable" candidates that beat incumbents.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First
That motivated our ancestors to build permanent structures to store their grains and homes close to their fields—which in turn led to the creation of villages.

Followed shortly by fortifications to prevent others from taking your grain by force.

11 posted on 12/19/2013 6:48:11 AM PST by Sherman Logan
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

12 posted on 12/19/2013 7:11:37 AM PST by Liberty Valance (Keep a simple manner for a happy life :o)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First
What I want to know is how they figured out how to make beer?

Which came first, beer or the fermentation vat?

13 posted on 12/19/2013 7:14:23 AM PST by E. Pluribus Unum (Who knew that one day professional wrestling would be less fake than professional journalism?)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Red_Devil 232

Didn’t they claim in that documentary that they’ve found beerstone (calcium oxalate), a substance associated with brewing containers, on some of the earliest ceramic vessels discovered?


14 posted on 12/19/2013 7:17:38 AM PST by Flag_This (Liberalism: Kills countries dead.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: Sherman Logan
And cats were domesticated to keep vermin from eating the grain.

Some have become a little too domesticated.

15 posted on 12/19/2013 7:17:59 AM PST by KarlInOhio (Everyone get online for Obamacare on 10/1. Overload the system and crash it hard!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 11 | View Replies]

To: KarlInOhio
That's not beer, it's Bud Light. Poor kitty.

/johnny

16 posted on 12/19/2013 7:46:13 AM PST by JRandomFreeper (Gone Galt)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

I know I will be in the minority here but IMNSHO, beer tastes absolutely nasty to me. I have tried so many different kinds with the same results. I guess it takes all kinds of people to make the world go round...lol.


17 posted on 12/19/2013 7:51:32 AM PST by copaliscrossing (Comparison is the beginning of discontent.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/how-beer-saved-the-world/


18 posted on 12/19/2013 8:03:42 AM PST by Svartalfiar
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: copaliscrossing

http://www.stonebrew.com/arrogantbastard/


19 posted on 12/19/2013 8:05:06 AM PST by Svartalfiar
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

There’s some interesting twists and turns to this.

People have three latitude zones on Earth: equatorial, temperate and polar.

In the equatorial regions, vegetable food grows year around, but also spoils quickly and is plagued by insects. Starchy foods like bananas may have been used to make the first beers, and are still used as such in those regions.

In the temperate regions, there are typically two growing seasons during the year, and insects and spoilage are less of a problem. Because much grain is grown here, along with other crops, like grapes, they are the big source for beers and wines, which work well as a way to store calories for the winter months.

In the polar regions, with only one short growing season a year, beer and mead from honey, also wine, are essential for their long winters.

Importantly, there is a major exception, that really matters to beer. Egypt. Though in an equatorial desert region, Egypt had only one crop a year, after the annual flooding of the Nile river. So like temperate regions, grew a lot of grain, and spent a lot of time and effort, some 3000 years worth, figuring out how to store it, and convert it to beer. Wine as well.

By the time of the Roman Empire, knowledge from all three regions could be consolidated to produce food and drink.


20 posted on 12/19/2013 10:41:55 AM PST by yefragetuwrabrumuy (Last Obamacare Promise: "If You Like Your Eternal Soul, You Can Keep It.")
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

Makes sense. Too many hangovers means it’s really hard to get up the next morning, pack up camp, and go nomading about all the time. Easier to sleep off the hangovers if you stay in one place.


21 posted on 12/19/2013 12:34:41 PM PST by catnipman (Cat Nipman: Vote Republican in 2012 and only be called racist one more time!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

Bfl


22 posted on 12/19/2013 12:55:45 PM PST by Manic_Episode (Some days...it's just not worth chewing through the leather straps....)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

Beer. Nectar of the Gods.


23 posted on 12/19/2013 12:56:20 PM PST by Doomonyou (Let them eat Lead.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Svartalfiar

Thanks, I might give it a try....


24 posted on 12/19/2013 7:58:12 PM PST by copaliscrossing (Comparison is the beginning of discontent.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 19 | View Replies]

> he made his first batch of beer in 2006 using the prehistoric yeast. Extracted from a chunk of 45-million-year-old Burmese amber, its revival from deep dormancy by a scientist from California Poly San Luis Obispo riveted the scientific world.

Ancient ale: Prehistoric yeast takes beer drinkers back millions of years
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/chat/2348335/posts


25 posted on 12/20/2013 7:13:05 PM PST by SunkenCiv (http://www.freerepublic.com/~mestamachine/)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

Humans have been drinking beer for 11,500 years
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/chat/2973955/posts


26 posted on 12/20/2013 7:13:39 PM PST by SunkenCiv (http://www.freerepublic.com/~mestamachine/)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: StayAt HomeMother; Ernest_at_the_Beach; decimon; 1010RD; 21twelve; 24Karet; 2ndDivisionVet; ...
Thanks Second Amendment First.

27 posted on 12/20/2013 7:14:55 PM PST by SunkenCiv (http://www.freerepublic.com/~mestamachine/)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: SunkenCiv

I think that it would be closer to Ale. Ale in the English Middle Ages was so thick you could eat it with a spoon.


28 posted on 12/21/2013 7:02:27 AM PST by Little Bill (A)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 26 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

Long time ago I read a book about the history of food, that basically posits the same theory.

Wish I could remember the name of it. It was also a sort of cookbook on how to make all sorts of ancient foods from grains, honey, etc.


29 posted on 12/21/2013 7:04:43 AM PST by P.O.E. (Pray for America)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Little Bill

Egyptian beer was also like that, and eaten like soup.


30 posted on 12/21/2013 8:12:25 AM PST by SunkenCiv (http://www.freerepublic.com/~mestamachine/)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 28 | View Replies]

To: copaliscrossing

You can try it, but good luck :p I don’t know too many people who actually like it.

I was mainly posting you for the description, if you managed to read it?


31 posted on 12/21/2013 6:30:06 PM PST by Svartalfiar
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 24 | View Replies]

To: JRandomFreeper

That’s not beer, it’s Bud Light. Poor kitty.

(((

Animal cruelty, IMO.


32 posted on 12/22/2013 9:43:34 AM PST by Bigg Red (He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.--Is 40)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

Beer WAS my medicine.

I way overmedicated. Twenty years clean and sober come Feb. 5th, 2014.


33 posted on 12/22/2013 10:07:14 AM PST by truth_seeker (Nissan)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: JimRed

I am not a beer drinker but there are occasions, like after a few hours of hot strenuous labor when a cold beer is the only thing that will do.


34 posted on 12/23/2013 5:07:06 PM PST by ThanhPhero (Khách sang La Vang hanh huong tham vieng Maria)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: copaliscrossing

I do like the beer that is heavy on the hops or heavy on the malt. I detest Budweiser and all its clones and cousins.


35 posted on 12/23/2013 5:09:03 PM PST by ThanhPhero (Khách sang La Vang hanh huong tham vieng Maria)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: Second Amendment First

Beer would also be a valuable trade good. It gives a reason for nomadic herders to stop by your village and trade a sheep for some beer, and have a bbq party.


36 posted on 12/24/2013 3:51:22 AM PST by SauronOfMordor (Socialists want YOUR wealth redistributed, never THEIRS!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
General/Chat
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson