The current issue of Smithsonian magazine has an interesting article about archeologist Patrick McGovern, who’s at the University of Pennsylvania and his work uncovering evidence of early alcoholic beverages. His particular sub-field is molecular anthropology and he has a great book about his work titled Uncorking the Past. The Smithsonian piece is entitled Dig, Drink And Be Merry in the print version, but is called The Beer Archeologist online.
Also prominent in the article is his collaboration with Sam Calagione and Dogfish Head and their latest concoction, an Egyptian ale called Ta Henket, whose recipe dates back several hundred centuries. The ingredients includes Middle Eastern spices such as za’atar, along with chamomile and dried doum-palm fruit.
One of my favorite new beer quotes I discovered in the article, too. Walking the halls of the University of Pennsylvania, the article’s author — Abigail Tucker — details an encounter between Dr. McGovern and a fellow professor, Alexei Vranich (an expert on pre-Columbia Peru). After a short discussion, Vranich thanks McGovern for his research, and quips. “I keep telling people that beer is more important than armies when it comes to understanding people.”
Late in the article, there’s also a nice overview of the emerging “beer before bread” debate within science and the origin of fermented beverages generally.
A display showing the ingredients used in the ancient Egyptian brew Ta Henket. (All photographs from the Smithsonian article by Landon Nordeman)