Do primitive agriculture and brewing coincide?


The existence of beer[1] in very ancient times has now been proven thanks to the techniques of the archaeochemists. It dates back 13,000 years in Palestine/Jordan, 9,000 years in China, 6,000 years in Mesopotamia and in the high valleys of Iran/Pakistan (Shahr-i Shokhta), 5,500 years in Egypt. Africa follows closely[2], then Europe and the American continent.

The regions of the world where beer brewing has emerged as a primordial technology cover the craddles of the primary domestication of cereals, tubers or others starchy plants. So that the types of beer specific to each primeval cultural area of the world match the plants which have been originally domesticated in these same areas of the planet.

Is this a coincidence?

In these various regions of the world, the emergence of brewing follows the birth of agriculture or horticulture. Nothing odd about that: no beer without starch. Looking for the trace of the first brewers means going back in time and following the trail of the world's first horticulturists-farmers. No regular brewing and consumption of beer, therefore no brewery, without an abundant, sustainable and manageable source of starch.Let's say without some annual storage of cereals or a source of "spontaneously" available starch (seeds of wild grasses, tubers, roots, starchy seeds or marrow from specific trees, starchy bulbs, etc.).

Nevertheless, the time elapsed between the domestication of these starch resources and the emergence of the first brewing techniques fluctuates, depending on the region, between one and several millennia. The need for technical adaptation does not explain such a chronological gap. Mechanisms of social evolution and mental appropriation (alcoholic beverages) were involved. It is not sufficient to simply keep stocks of cereals or tubers. Social structures must also encourage or accept the regular transformation of these food reserves into fermented beverages. In addition, mental attitudes and behaviours need to incorporate alcohol consumption and more or less ritualised collective drunkenness as vehicles for positive social change.



[1] Beer or a mixed form of fermented beverage incorporating at least a starchy raw material mixed with fruit and sometimes honey.

[2] The brewery traces found in Abydos (South Egyptian, 2nd cataract) and the ancient Egyptian documents leave no doubt about the production of beer in Nubia. But we still lack material evidence of the early brewing in Black Africa, e.g. analyses of beer residues prior to the 4th millennium.

07/11/2020  Christian Berger