While I’m firmly in the “beer came before bread” camp in the anthropological debate about what sparked civilization, evidence has been mounting for that view since it was first proposed over a half-century ago. In a new opinion piece in the New York Times by Jeffrey P. Kahn, the CEO of WorkPsych Associates, entitled How Beer Gave Us Civilization, he lays out the case for why “we needed beer” and runs through an overview of early civilization’s introduction of alcohol and why it was so necessary to our development. He also brings into the debate a recent study from the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, What Was Brewing in the Natufian? An Archaeological Assessment of Brewing Technology in the Epipaleolithic, which adds new support for what I call the “beer first” theory.
He unfortunately ends with the long-discredited Benjamin Franklin beer quote, but apart from that gaffe, it’s a good read. Just stop short of the final two paragraphs, and it’s even better. He should have just finished with this sage observation. “Beer’s place in the development of civilization deserves at least a raising of the glass.” Hear, hear.
Illustration by Anders Nilsson.