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Monday, November 08, 2010

Beer Civilized Humanity--the Link Grows Stronger

For some decades, beer boosters have liked to claim--on thin evidence--that it was their pursuit of beer that caused humans to take up cultivation of grains, leading inexorably to civilization. That thin evidence, along with the nature of the boosterism, has caused me to regard the claim with hearty skepticism, but maybe the boosters were right all along. (Sort of.)
However, sites in Syria suggest that people nevertheless went to unusual lengths at times just to procure cereal grains — up to 40 to 60 miles (60 to 100 km). One might speculate, Hayden said, that the labor associated with grains could have made them attractive in feasts in which guests would be offered foods that were difficult or expensive to prepare, and beer could have been a key reason to procure the grains used to make them. "It's not that drinking and brewing by itself helped start cultivation, it's this context of feasts that links beer and the emergence of complex societies," Hayden said.

The brewing of alcohol seems to have been a very early development linked with initial domestication, seen during Neolithic times in China, the Sudan, the first pottery in Greece and possibly with the first use of maize. Hayden said circumstantial evidence for brewing has been seen in the Natufian, in that all the technology needed to make it is there — cultivated yeast, grindstones, vessels for brewing and fire-cracked rocks as signs of the heating needed to prepare the mash.
In light of this, perhaps my recent horror at Four Loko needs to be put into the proper context: humans love to party, and what's a party without beer?

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