Was the First Beer Brewed for the Dead?

This tale appeared in the May 2020 issue as “Brews from a Cave Grave.” Subscribe to Explore magazine for additional stories like this.


The to start with beer was for the useless. Which is in accordance to a 2018 examine of stone vessels from Raqefet Cave in Israel, a 13,000-year-previous graveyard made up of around thirty burials of the Natufian culture. On 3 limestone mortars, archaeologists uncovered don and tear and plant molecules, interpreted as evidence of liquor manufacturing. Supplied the cemetery setting, researchers propose grog was created throughout funerary rituals in the cave, as an offering to the dearly departed and refreshment for the dwelling. Raqefet’s beer would predate farming in the Around East by as substantially as 2,000 many years — and booze manufacturing, globally, by some four,000 many years.

But other archaeologists say the web site was dry, and the vessels carved into stones and the cave flooring have been utilized to bake bread. Science Smackdown asks: Ended up they brewing or baking?

First Beer Colleagues

Li Liu and her colleagues. (Credit: Courtesy Li Liu)

The Assert: Ingesting With the Lifeless

The beer speculation, posted in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, arrives from Raqefet excavators, dependent at Israel’s College of Haifa, and Stanford College researchers, who executed microscopic analyses. In earlier analysis, they created experimental brews the ancient way, to see how the approach altered artifacts. Some telltale indicators have been then recognized on Raqefet stones: A around ten-inch diameter mortar, carved immediately into the cave flooring, experienced micro-scratches — possibly from a picket pestle — and starch with damage indicative of mashing, heating and fermenting, all steps in liquor manufacturing. Two funnel-formed stones experienced traces of cereals, legumes and flax, interpreted as evidence that they have been after lined with woven baskets and utilized to store grains and other beer ingredients. Guide writer Li Liu thinks Natufians also created bread, but that these 3 vessels have been for beer — the earliest nonetheless uncovered.

First Beer David Eitam

David Eitam (Credit: David Eitam)

The Counterpoint: Baking, Not Boozing

Major the challenge, Israel-dependent unbiased archaeologist David Eitam commends the team’s get the job done identifying plant residues, but contends that it’s evidence for bread. He likens their target on 3 artifacts to studying a tree, when “the thought is to understand the forest.” Eitam has cataloged additional than three hundred similar stone artifacts at regional Natufian web sites and examined their doable works by using. The effects suggest the funnel-formed vessels — way too deep and narrow for storage — have been designed for grinding barley into flour. At Raqefet, these “bread
machines” have been positioned around a burial, possibly for “feeding the useless,” he claims. And the starches? Spoiled foods, fermented normally and unintentionally, Eitam proposes, also in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

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