Friday, January 3, 2014

Excavating Beer

I'm much for new year's predictions, but I think 2014 is shaping up to be the year of archeo-beer. In just over a month I've seen not one, not two, but three stories on the convergence of archaeology and beer. I'm not talking about speculative recipes and gimmicks, either. I mean holes-in-the-ground, dirt under their finger nails archaeology and beer that was brewed thousands of years ago.

Khonso-Im-Hebs tomb.
Courtesy of The Atlantic/Supreme council of Antiquities
At the end of November, the Huffington Post reported that a group of "diggers" in Cyprus unearthed a site what they suspect was a bronze-age brewery, including what may have been a grain kiln. The HuffPost was kind enough to include a recipe—a very detailed and labor intensive recipe, mind you—to boot. 

A month later on December 20, Martyn posted on Facebook an article from the U.K.'s Daily Mail. The gist of the article is that a group of scientists—not the least of whom happens to be University of Pennsylvania's Dr. Patrick McGovern—are stating that it was beer rather than bread that was the impetus for paleo-man to quit his huntin' and gatherin' ways and put down roots—and by roots I literally mean roots, as in they started farming.

McGovern and his compatriots—spurned by the University of Chicago scholar Robert Brainwood who first proposed that beer was a human existence-changing phenomenon in the 1950s—note that beer was nutritious, may helped to develop community and may have even led to the domestication of barley and other fermentable grain. McGovern, by the way, is the science side of Dogfish Head's Ancient Ales series.

And finally, from this morning, The Atlantic (among others) is reporting that a group of Japanese Egyptologists, working in Luxor, have discovered the 3,000 year old tomb belonging to the ancient Egyptian brewer Khonso-Im-Heb—the royal brewer to Pharaoh Amenhotep III. The T-shaped tomb is decorated with images of the brewer himself, grain fermentation and, well the end product of that fermentation—beer. As well as images of beer given as an offering to Mut, Egypt's mother-goddess.

It looks like we're off to a pretty cool start to 2014. Pharaohs and Bronze age breweries, what's cooler than that?

Can we all agree to ride this wave, and not fuck it up with another bull testicle beer?

I'm just putting that out there.


  1. Is there a way to determine what the proportions of the ingredients were, what temperatures were used to cook them and how long were they cooked the temperatures the resulting wort fermented and for how long, when the fig were added and how exactly the malting process was done? Because without knowing all of those things, what we have isn't a recreation of an old recipe, as Fuller's Past Masters for instance, but only a conjecture based gimmick.

  2. You're asking the wrong person on that one, my friend!

  3. I will say, though, "conjecture based on gimmick" is a little harsh. Educated speculation is part of the scientific process and developing theories about early man. The University of Manchester (the group who supplied the recipe) isn't a brewery trying to sell beer. They have a hypothesis about early Cyprian beer and the process by which it was made.