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Brewing Up A Civilization

There’s a wonderful article today in Germany’s Der Speigel showcasing University of Pennsylvania Archaeologist Patrick McGovern’s theory that alcohol is responsible for nothing short of civilization itself. Titled Alcohol’s Neolithic Origins: Brewing Up a Civilization, the story begins:

Did our Neolithic ancestors turn to agriculture so that they could be sure of a tipple? US Archaeologist Patrick McGovern thinks so. The expert on identifying traces of alcohol in prehistoric sites reckons the thirst for a brew was enough of an incentive to start growing crops.

It turns out the fall of man probably didn’t begin with an apple. More likely, it was a handful of mushy figs that first led humankind astray.

Here is how the story likely began — a prehistoric human picked up some dropped fruit from the ground and popped it unsuspectingly into his or her mouth. The first effect was nothing more than an agreeably bittersweet flavor spreading across the palate. But as alcohol entered the bloodstream, the brain started sending out a new message — whatever that was, I want more of it!

This is nothing new if you’ve been following McGovern and other scientists coming to similar conclusions as new evidence is continually being found to support the idea that it was the desire to brew beer that caused man to settle down and grow crops, leading to civilization’s genesis. But it’s quite nice to see it gaining traction in mainstream media.

McGovern’s latest book, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages, is a fascinating read and I highly recommend it. McGovern is also the scientist that worked with Dogfish Head Brewery to create Midas Touch, Chateau Jiahu, along with their other historically based beers.

An Egyptian wooden funerary model of a beer brewery in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

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