Was the First Beer Brewed for the Dead?

This story appeared in the May possibly 2020 issue as “Brews from a Cave Grave.” Subscribe to Uncover journal for more stories like this.


The very first beer was for the useless. That is in accordance to a 2018 analyze of stone vessels from Raqefet Cave in Israel, a thirteen,000-year-outdated graveyard containing around thirty burials of the Natufian tradition. On three limestone mortars, archaeologists discovered have on and tear and plant molecules, interpreted as proof of alcoholic beverages creation. Presented the cemetery placing, scientists suggest grog was manufactured throughout funerary rituals in the cave, as an presenting to the dearly departed and refreshment for the residing. Raqefet’s beer would predate farming in the Around East by as considerably as 2,000 several years — and booze creation, globally, by some 4,000 several years.

But other archaeologists say the web site was dry, and the vessels carved into stones and the cave floor ended up utilized to bake bread. Science Smackdown asks: Were being they brewing or baking?

First Beer Colleagues

Li Liu and her colleagues. (Credit score: Courtesy Li Liu)

The Claim: Drinking With the Useless

The beer hypothesis, printed in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Experiences, will come from Raqefet excavators, primarily based at Israel’s University of Haifa, and Stanford University researchers, who conducted microscopic analyses. In former exploration, they manufactured experimental brews the historical way, to see how the process altered artifacts. Some telltale indications ended up then recognized on Raqefet stones: A around 10-inch diameter mortar, carved immediately into the cave floor, experienced micro-scratches — in all probability from a picket pestle — and starch with injury indicative of mashing, heating and fermenting, all ways in alcoholic beverages creation. Two funnel-formed stones experienced traces of cereals, legumes and flax, interpreted as proof that they ended up at the time lined with woven baskets and utilized to shop grains and other beer substances. Lead author Li Liu thinks Natufians also manufactured bread, but that these three vessels ended up for beer — the earliest yet learned.

First Beer David Eitam

David Eitam (Credit score: David Eitam)

The Counterpoint: Baking, Not Boozing

Primary the obstacle, Israel-primarily based impartial archaeologist David Eitam commends the team’s operate identifying plant residues, but contends that it is proof for bread. He likens their concentration on three artifacts to studying a tree, when “the concept is to recognize the forest.” Eitam has cataloged more than 300 equivalent stone artifacts at regional Natufian websites and tested their possible uses. The benefits counsel the funnel-formed vessels — far too deep and slim for storage — ended up developed for grinding barley into flour. At Raqefet, these “bread
machines” ended up positioned over a burial, possibly for “feeding the useless,” he states. And the starches? Spoiled food items, fermented the natural way and unintentionally, Eitam proposes, also in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.