cold fjord writes with an excerpt from The Atlantic's profile of Dr. Pat McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, who has what sounds like a fascinating job: decoding ancient clues about what (and how) humans in the distant past were brewing and drinking.
"'We always start with infrared spectrometry,' he says. 'That gives us an idea of what organic materials are preserved.' From there, it's on to tandem liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry, sometimes coupled with ion cyclotron resonance, and solid-phase micro-extraction gas chromatography–mass spectrometry. The end result? A beer recipe. Starting with a few porous clay shards or tiny bits of resin-like residue from a bronze cup, McGovern is able to determine what some ancient Norseman or Etruscan or Shang dynast was drinking."
The article points out that McGovern has collaborated with the Dogfish Head brewery to reproduce in modern form six of these ancient recipes.