Brewing Arts Program

The Archaeology and Indigenous Knowledge of Brewing

Module 01: The Archaeology and Indigenous Knowledge of Brewing

So module one started out with teaching us about the history of brewing based on archaeological findings. Our professor for the course, Dr.  John Arthur is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology and has worked in southwestern Ethiopia since 1995 where he discovered how to interpret beer production in the ancient past, in areas like Ethiopia, Sudan, and northern Mexico. He has worked with the Gamo community in southern Ethiopia understanding the importance of beer in their daily and ritual lives. 

I was a history major in college (Go Gators!) so starting off this program with basically a big history lesson was right up my alley. It was fascinating to learn all about how brewing got started in all corners of the world, how beer was integrated into cultural, religious, and economic parts of society, and the correlation to how we brew beer today.

History has often recorded the presence of wine in society, however, it’s actually more likely that beer was present during these periods since grain was easier and cheaper to come across than grapes and was a lot faster to make. At archaeological sites around the world, the residue found in pots has been studied to determine what Old World beer was made of, typically out of grains and other produce easily grown in the area. This can then be compared to how beer is produced today. Throughout time, studying the residue has also shown changes in the domestication of agriculture and the improved production of beer. 

The earliest beer production can be traced back to 9,000 years ago to the Chinese site of Jiahu. Archaeologists discovered pots in burial sites containing residue of rice, hawthorn fruit, grapes, and honey that had most likely been fermented into a beer-like beverage. 

Beer residue has also been discovered in areas like Mesopotamia, Egypt, Turkey, Mexico, Peru, and Nordic areas, dating back up to 9,000 years ago. Residue found in jugs and pots shows traces of common produce of the area, like barley in Mesopotamia and maize in Mexico. It was often consumed by all classes in society and was not just considered a social drink for celebrations and festivities, but a primary food, a wage, and a healing agent for cosmetic and medical issues.

In current Indigenous societies, like the Gamo, beer is an essential staple and provides many health benefits for these communities. It is often considered a food rather than a beverage as it adds a significant amount of daily caloric intake to their diets. It also contains more protein, vitamins, and minerals than unleavened bread. And while it is made with unprocessed water, the low alcohol content created through the fermentation process kills the bacteria that may be present, making it safer and cleaner to drink than the water itself.

Now that we have a good foundation of how beer event got started, stay tuned for module two where we learn all about water!

And if you missed my last post about the Brewing Arts program and how I got started – check it out

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