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Beer Science

The Archaeology of Beer 89

Posted by timothy
from the glog-glog-glog dept.
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.
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The Archaeology of Beer

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  • But ... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    But will these 6 rediscovered recipes be "free as in beer"?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...or did Beer help to create Civilization?

    • by KingOfBLASH (620432) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @02:27PM (#45789023) Journal

      ...or did Beer help to create Civilization?

      Obligatory futurama quote: "Civilization is just an attempt to impress the opposite sex."

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      tfa claims that ancient beer used a wide variety of base ingredients. All that ended about 500 years ago when the German beer purity law came in and the ingredients were limited. pre-Godwin??

    • Seems reasonably near a viable pretext for social order; Warriors defend local farmers who produce their favorite life-giving brew.
      I'm in.

    • by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @03:25PM (#45789459)

      I would say Beer did help create Civilization.
      Fermentation was one of the earliest ways to preserve food.
      Many locations were too wet to dehydrate your food. Grains would rot and get moldy and fill up with stuff that isn't good for human consumption.
      Fermentation is a good way to preserve the calories so you can hold on to your food in times of famine. Allowing people to gather more than they need. Allowing for sharing, trading, creating rules to insure fair trading, having a large stock of food that can last seasons means people can stay in one location, build better stronger buildings, which then can give people time to figure out how to grow their own food, manage livestock. When then keep on adding up.

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        "I would say Beer did help create Civilization. ...Allowing people to gather more than they need. Allowing for sharing, trading, creating rules to insure fair trading, having a large stock of food that can last seasons means people can stay in one location, build better stronger buildings, which then can give people time to figure out how to grow their own food, manage livestock."

        Just say it right away. People wanted to get drunk from time to time, so they had to stay on a spot to grow some stuff to turn in

      • Anthropologists are currently documenting another way it may have led to civilization: Tribes brewing batches of beer and, when it's ready, throwing beer parties and inviting the neighboring tribes (who reciprocate when THEIR beer is ready - or do some other valuable thing for the partygivers). This leads to alliances and good relations between polities.

      • Basically the world has been divided between two camps:

        - Those who keep their beverages by fermenting them.
        - Those who keep them by boiling them.

        As you said, the main problem before the invention of more modern food industry, is trying to find way to preserve your food / drinks.

        Regarding drinks:
        Some tribes solved the problem by boiling the water (which kills potential germs), and throwing in some herbs to improve the taste. And thus they more or less invented tea.

        Other tribes let the drinks ferment (which p

  • Vermont black market microbrews are currently selling for about $28 per can, and the market has been infiltrated by modern day Elliot Ness's. So this is worth serious study. http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-12-06/vermont-tries-to-squelch-a-black-market-for-craft-beer [businessweek.com]
    • by mythosaz (572040)

      More like,

      "Popular limited-supply microbrews are being re-sold by enterprising hoarders for as much as $7 a can instead of the $4.50 a can they sell for retail."

      The woman in the article tried to resell 10 cases of a popular microbrew, so she ran afoul of local liquor laws. [She likely ran afoul of them when reselling ONE of them, but 120 of them put her on the VDLC's radar.]

  • Beer shaped history (Score:5, Informative)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby AT comcast DOT net> on Thursday December 26, 2013 @02:42PM (#45789127)

    Don't knock this as Homer Simpson level work, beer has shaped history for thousands of years. From the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock [straightdope.com] to the establishment of trade routes beer has always had it's place.

    The idea of beer as somehow being sinful is a bit like the diamond ring, it's essentially a modern invention. Monks in Europe brewed beer for centuries as a bonafide way to make money for the monastery to live on. Any number of religions have brewed and used beer for their religious purposes all over the world, it is literally a mark of civilization. When water was historically often filthy and unfit to drink, it's use as a stock drink for the masses wasn't anything to mess about with. When the colonies were established beer was one of the first priorities for the colonists.

    • by mlts (1038732) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @02:52PM (#45789173)

      Ancient Egypt used "small beer", which had a low ABV, as a daily drink because the water up and down the Nile was not drinkable. Beer wasn't just something to get sloshed on, but something to actually imbibe to survive, day by day.

      Of course, ships needed something, be it beer (as in the above mentioned link) or grog to keep the bugs out of the drinking water supply.

      This gets me curious about homebrewing a batch of something as I can get accurately towards an Egyptian small beer. It might be a decent Gatorade replacement.

      • by fldsofglry (2754803) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @03:02PM (#45789237)
        Gatorade replacement? You might want to look at the Tarahumara people. They are known for running long distances and were featured in the book "Born to Run". They drink a corn beer that helps give them the energy and electrolytes to run such long distances.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        More than just survival, Egyptian beer turned out to have immune boosting properties which were only discovered, afaik, in the past several years. Large amounts of this molecule (protein?) weren't explainable in the bones of those who had presumably worked on the pyramids. Until the only explanation came from beer.

        PBS, I think, had a special on it.

      • You cannot rehydrate using alcohol [abc.net.au], and you'll probably kill yourself if you try.

        This whole people using beer to replace water en masse is a bit fishy anyway. I mean why not just boil it rather than going through the elaborate, expensive and time consuming process of making beer. Not to mention that early waterways were almost certainly far less polluted than some would believe.

        • by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby AT comcast DOT net> on Thursday December 26, 2013 @04:05PM (#45789745)

          Early beer wasn't intended for getting drunk and wasn't as strong as the beer of today is. It was intended as a day in, day out workaday drink for the masses.

          You've also got to remember that people back then didn't understand basic hygiene (Queen Elizabeth likely only bathed a couple times in her life) or why things like boiling water would be beneficial. Principals that today are widely understood simply weren't known back then. Even things as simple as washing your hands before surgery are very recent developments (more soldiers died from infections from wounds in the Civil war than were killed on the field).

          What people did know was that people that drank beer didn't get sick like the people that drank water. They also knew that it tasted better than water and they were raised up on it as generations prior had been. It was likely cheaper to buy beer than the firewood to boil your own water if you lived in a city, it was also certainly less hassle when you consider that many households didn't have kitchens. In short there was simply no reason to go through the effort of boiling water.

          • Early beer wasn't intended for getting drunk and wasn't as strong as the beer of today is. It was intended as a day in, day out workaday drink for the masses.

            I don't think that especially matters, even if it was the case that beer was weaker. As far as I'm aware any amount of alcohol beyond miniscule causes a net loss of water, going by that article I linked to.

            You've also got to remember that people back then didn't understand basic hygiene (Queen Elizabeth likely only bathed a couple times in her life) or why things like boiling water would be beneficial. Principals that today are widely understood simply weren't known back then. Even things as simple as washing your hands before surgery are very recent developments (more soldiers died from infections from wounds in the Civil war than were killed on the field).

            What people did know was that people that drank beer didn't get sick like the people that drank water. They also knew that it tasted better than water and they were raised up on it as generations prior had been. It was likely cheaper to buy beer than the firewood to boil your own water if you lived in a city, it was also certainly less hassle when you consider that many households didn't have kitchens. In short there was simply no reason to go through the effort of boiling water.

            I'd need to see some evidence that a) beer drinking reduced sickness instead of increasing things like sclerosis, b) the facilities and logistics networks actually existed to produce and distribute the near endless quantities of beer you'd need to replace drinking water for a city, and c) that beer was ch

            • I'd need to see some evidence that a) beer drinking reduced sickness instead of increasing things like sclerosis

              This one, at least, is easy: look up the work by biochemist George Armelagos on the tetracycline (antibiotic) found in mummies. Now we know why beer was found in all those ancient Egyptian medical texts ...

              Not quite the result you were looking for, and it may only have applied to beer found in part of the world ...

              There is some reason to suppose that workers in ancient Egypt may have been paid, at least some of the time, in beer and bread ...

              As far as the beer vs dirty water question goes, it's probably fa

          • by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @04:37PM (#45790007)

            A quick bit of Googling brings up this:

            http://www.slate.com/blogs/quora/2013/05/21/medieval_europe_why_was_water_the_most_popular_drink.html [slate.com]

            Contrary to what is found all over the Internet on the subject, the most common drink was water, for the obvious reason: It's free. Medieval villages and towns were built around sources of fresh water. This could be fresh running water, a spring or, in many cases, wells. All of these could easily provide fresh, disease- and impurity-free water; the idea that water from these sources would be the causes of disease and so had to be made into ale or beer is fanciful.

            Where water was more likely to be contaminated, largely by tanning, slaughtering, or dying facilities, was in larger towns. But since medieval people were not idiots, they dealt with this in several ways. There were ordinances on where tanners and dyers could operate so that water for domestic use could be drawn from rivers and streams in the town to ensure the water was clean. And there were fines for contaminating areas of streams used for household consumption.

            In larger cities, water-supply infrastructure was built to ensure public access to clean water. In medieval London, for example, the City Council began construction on what was called "the Great Conduit" in 1236. This was a complex of pipes that brought water from a large fresh spring at Tyburn to a pumping house with cisterns at Cheapside. This fed local cisterns all over London.

            Wealthy Londoners could apply to have a private pipe or "quill" run from the conduit system to their house, giving them running water. This was expensive, and citizens who illegally tapped into the conduits were severely punished. Most people either drew their water from the nearest conduit cistern or paid a "cob" or water-carrier to bring them their day's water supply in three-gallon tubs, which they carried through the streets on a yoke. Public celebrations, such as the return of Edward I from Palestine or the coronation of Richard II, saw the city stop the water flow and fill the conduits with wine for the day, with people able to drink as much as they wanted.

            People did drink a lot of ale and beer, but not because their water was so bad. The brews in question were much weaker than their modern equivalents but had the effect of providing much-needed calories to laborers and farmers, as well as being thirst-quenching and re-hydrating in hot weather or when working hard and losing sweat. Given the long days medieval workers put in, ale and beer were a major and necessary part of a laborer's daily energy intake. This should be seen as something like the medieval equivalent of drinking Gatorade.

            Wine was the drink of choice for the upper classes and anyone who could afford it. It was produced all over medieval Europe and, due to the Medieval Warm Period that prevailed over western Europe until the 14th century, the climate meant it could be produced as far north as northern England. Wine was expensive and buying a small barrel was beyond the means of most people. But taverners bought it in bulk and sold it by the cup, so for a penny or even a halfpenny, an English peasant could enjoy a Bordeaux red.

            In medieval England, the wine drunk most was red wine from Bordeaux and Gascony. Rhenish white from the Rhineland was twice as expensive and favored by the upper classes. Spanish white wines such as Lepe and Osey were cheaper and sweet wines from Greece, Crete, and Cyprus such as Romonye and Malmsey were popular after dinner.

        • by sjames (1099)

          Actually, you can if the alcohol concentration is low.

          As for boiling it, that seems ever so easy when you have a nice stove and a teakettle. But they didn't.

          • Actually, you can if the alcohol concentration is low.

            Facts, links, support, etc. The closest thing I could find was a dubious Spanish study saying that if you drank lots of water as well as a small amount of beer it could help rehydration. And that was pretty hard to find amid the avalanche of studies about alcohol as a diuretic.

            As for boiling it, that seems ever so easy when you have a nice stove and a teakettle. But they didn't.

            Luckily according to the article I linked below apparently they didn't need to, without even addressing the dubious claim that people in medieval times routinely hadn't the means to boil water.

            • by sjames (1099)

              Here's one [nih.gov]

              It seems that if you are somewhat dehydrated already (such as from sweating while doing field work), alcohol loses it's diuretic effect.

              Meanwhile, I didn't say medieval people didn't have the means to boil water, I said it was a pain in the ass compared to drinking a small beer.

              Mostly, the small beer was valued for it's refreshment and nutritional value. They weren't chugging till they got the spins (which might be hard to do on a 3% ABV beer).

              • So, when you don't have any water to pee, you pee less.

                Interesting conclusion.

                • by sjames (1099)

                  What is your big hate for beer? You asked for a reference and you got actual research (instead of a news report). If you actually read even the summary to see that control and beer group were producing urine (after all, severe dehydration for an experiment would be unethical). In fact, they were producing the same amount of urine.

                  • Why do people always take beer related criticism personally. I mean seriously, it's like a religion. I love beer, in fact I'm about to tuck into a few cans of Guinness right now and watch The Name of the Rose, but that doesn't mean I'm going to buy into bullshit in support of the beverage.

                    I accept that medieval farmers had a beer in the afternoon to make the time pass more quickly and dull the physical stress of their work. I also accept this was fairly widespread, even in towns and cities. What I don't acc

                    • by sjames (1099)

                      I read the news article you posted. It parroted the usual advice given to keep the rednecks from staying drunk all the time. It offered no citations of any kind.

                      I replied with an actual research paper containing actual numbers showing that a liter of 4% beer had no difference in effect on hydration to 1 liter of water. If you''re going to refuse to believe any proper citation given, you shouldn't ask for one, it's rude.

                      I don't know what you imagine a medieval small beer to be like, but in fact many still ha

                    • You shouldn't reply with research papers until you comprehend what they're saying.

                      Abstract
                      AIM:

                      This study was conducted to examine the effect of consuming a dilute alcohol solution (weak beer) on urine production in euhydrated and hypohydrated individuals.
                      METHODS:

                      Twelve males completed an intermittent cycle protocol in hot (35.1 +/- 0.3 degrees C), humid (68 +/- 2%) conditions to dehydrate by 1.9 +/- 0.3% body mass in the evening. Twice they were then fed and rehydrated, while on two other occasions they were fed the same meal but remained hypohydrated. The following morning they were given 1 l of beer to drink. On two occasions the beer was alcohol-free, while on the other two occasions the same beer contained 4% ethanol. Participants remained in the laboratory for monitoring over the subsequent 4 h. Blood and urine samples were taken prior to dehydration, prior to drink administration and once every hour of the monitoring period.
                      RESULTS:

                      No difference existed in the volume of urine produced between the alcohol (261 +/- 138 ml; mean +/- SD) and non-alcohol (174 +/- 61 ml) beer when hypohydrated (P = 0.057), but there was a difference when euhydrated (1279 +/- 256 vs 1121 +/- 148 ml alcohol and non-alcohol, respectively; P
                      CONCLUSION:

                      These results suggest that the diuretic action of alcohol is blunted when the body is hypohydrated.

                      When the body doesn't have enough water to pee, alcohol doesn't make you pee more. When the body does have normal hydration, alcohol makes you pee more.

                      You're an idiot, and I'm through with this discussion.

                    • by sjames (1099)

                      Hypohydrated is NOT the same as dehydrated:

                      No difference existed in the volume of urine produced between the alcohol (261 +/- 138 ml; mean +/- SD) and non-alcohol (174 +/- 61 ml) beer when hypohydrated

                      If they didn't "have enough water to pee" then how did they pee?

                      Hypohydrated means thirsty. Euhydrated means not thirsty. DEhydrated means sufficiently short of water that it's a medical problem.

    • by Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) on Thursday December 26, 2013 @02:59PM (#45789217) Homepage
      I had a teacher in high school who held the belief that alcohol was something that initially all ancient civilizations had to develop. The reason being is that having the ability to produce alcohol meant that there were excesses in both production and labor. The allowed civilization to develop instead of just being a bunch of hunter gatherers scratching out subsistence lives. As an added benefit alcohol provided a nice way to preserve grain and fruits for consumption later.

      As far as monastery beers go there were also the meal replacement beers (looking at you doppelbocks) during times of fasts when only liquids were allowed to be consumed.
  • It's always beer-thrity somewhere in the world!!
  • I invented beer.

    Look it up.

  • 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.

    Bah, a couple of Belgian guys in a shed where enough.
    http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Chouffe [wikipedia.org]

  • Id love to try those brews

Byte your tongue.

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