Under a microscope, Professor Li Liu finds and records starch grains
(Image credit: L.A. Cicero/Stanford University News Service )
Researchers from the U.S. and Israel have found evidence of the world’s oldest beer-making in an Israeli cave.
Scientists studied three 13,000-year-old stone mortars uncovered in the Raqefet Cave near what is now the Israeli city of Haifa. Residues confirmed that the mortars were used for brewing of wheat and barley, as well as for food storage.
Experts from Stanford University and the University of Haifa participated in the research. “This accounts for the oldest record of man-made alcohol in the world,” said Li Liu, a professor of Chinese archaeology at Stanford, in a statement.
The cave formed part of a prehistoric graveyard used by the Natufian people, providing a clue to beer’s role in their culture. Experts believe that the Natufians brewed beer as part of ritual feasts that honored the dead. “This discovery indicates that making alcohol was not necessarily a result of agricultural surplus production, but it was developed for ritual purposes and spiritual needs, at least to some extent, prior to agriculture,” said Liu.
A map shows the location of Raqefet Cave and additional Natufian sites in Mt. Carmel; field photos of the studied boulder mortars and the the cave floor (scale bar and arrow: 20 cm); a functional reconstruction of the mortars: a boulder mortar used to store plants in a basket with a stone slab on top, and a bedrock mortar used for pounding and cooking plants and brewing beer.
(Credits to Elsevier, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports Credits for photos: Dror Maayan; Graphic design: Anat Regev-Gisis)
The research, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, notes that the earliest bread remains discovered were recently uncovered from a Natufian site in Jordan. The bread remains could be between 11,600 and 14,600 years old, according to Liu, who says that beer findings could be from 11,700 to 13,700 years ago.
The Natufians likely used a three-stage brewing process that first turned the starch of wheat or barley into starch. The malt would then be mashed or heated and then left to ferment with airborne wild yeast.
Prehistoric beer, however, was quite unlike our modern brews, according to Jiajing Wang, a doctoral student at Stanford and co-author of the study. The Natufian brew was most likely a “multi-ingredient concoction like porridge or thin gruel,” the research says.
The prehistoric brewery is the latest fascinating archaeological find in Israel. Earlier this year, an international team of researchers announced the discovery of the earliest modern human fossil outside of Africa at Misliya Cave on Mt. Carmel in northern Israel. Dated between 175,000 and 200,000 years ago, the jawbone indicates that modern humans left the continent of Africa at least 50,000 years earlier than previously thought.
In 2015, researchers also found a partial human skull in a cave in Northern Israel dating from around 55,000 years ago. The fossil remains have been linked to migration of humans from Africa to Europe.
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