The origins of alcohol

Beer-brewing practices existed earlier than assumed
How important was alcohol to early humans? Since when did human beings think it worth investing time and energy in preparing it? Was humanity genetically primed to enjoy alcohol? A 2014 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argued that a single genetic mutation 10 million years ago equipped pre-humans to break down ethanol and allowed them to digest rotting, fermenting fruit that fell on the forest floor. These questions remain unanswered but it seems that beer-brewing practices existed at least 5,000 years earlier than thought, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports . Beer was believed to have been first brewed in northern China but an analysis of three stone mortars from a 13,000-year-old Natufian burial cave site in Israel reveals that they were used for brewing wheat/barley, as well as to store food.
The findings were a result of multiple excavations carried out as part of a project between Stanford University, U.S., and the University of Haifa, Israel. The Natufians were a “semi-sedentary, foraging people, who lived in the Eastern Mediterranean between the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic periods, following the last Ice Age”. The Natufians at Raqefet Cave collected available plants, stored malted seeds, and made beer as a part of their rituals. The Natufian burial area comprised 30 skeletons, flint tools, animal bones and groundstone implements, and about 100 stone mortars and cup marks. “Some of the skeletons are well preserved and provide direct dates and even human DNA,” said Dani Nadel, from the University of Haifa. The archaeologists say that the Natufians exploited at least seven plant types associated with the mortars, including wheat or barley, oat, legumes and bast fibres (including flax). They packed plant food in fibre-made containers and stored them in boulder mortars. They used bedrock mortars for pounding and cooking plant food, and for brewing wheat/barley-based beer. “The evidence provides yet another example of the complex Natufian social and ritual realms. Beer brewing may have been, at least in part, an underlying motivation to cultivate cereals in the southern Levant,” a press statement says.
Because the Natufian finds coincide with the time when people gave up their foraging pasts for settled agricultural practices, it also provokes questions about the origin of taboos on alcohol consumption.

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