Origin of beer

The creation of alcoholic beverages dates back to human prehistory, but there is evidence that beer was not the first alcoholic beverage to be made. First, fermented drinks were originated from fruit juices or honey, due to its simplicity. Later, a more alcoholic beverage made from cereals began to be made, thus giving rise to beer.

The oldest proofs of the creation of beer are found in the Raqefet Cave, Israel, dating from approximately the year 11000 BC These are three stone mortars that the ancient Natufians used for grinding and cooking, and even for brewing beer. According to the analyzes, they made beer from wheat and barley, and due to their customs, it is most likely that they used it at banquets for funeral rituals. These findings are also very important for another reason, the Natufians made fermented grain-based beverages thousands of years before agriculture was invented in the Near East, reinforcing the hypothesis that the practice of brewing could be a relevant cause for the domestication of cereals.

Dos de los morteros de piedra de la Cueva de Raqefet, donde se dio el origen de la cerveza.
Figure 1. Two of the stone mortars from Raqefet Cave used by the Natufians to pound and cook plants and to brew beer.

However, this does not mean that the first time that beer was made was around that date or in that exact area. Surely it happened before, but it is not possible to know with certainty when the first beer was made and who was the executor. Smith and Ferdinand (1940) already mentioned this uncertainty about the discovery of the first alcoholic beverage:

“… There is no evidence of the basic discoveries of man. No one knows who learned to control fires, who started the marriage, who discovered the wheel, and no one knows that primitive being who forgot a bowl of fruit and then took a sip of the fermented result ... "

Another important evidence, subsequent to that of the Raqefet cave, on the first brewing of beer, was found in the ancient city of Babylon, in Lower Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq), which dates from approximately 6000 BC. It is a piece of a pot that illustrates a scene in which several workers handle a beer container.

Símbolo sumerios antiguos que representaban la cerveza.
Figure 2. Ancient Sumerian symbols that represented beer.

In the region of Sumeria, also located in Mesopotamia, the first writings on clay tablets that mention beer were found, around 3600-4000 BC. These writings mention a drink made from the fermentation of cereal grains called "sikaru" and cuneiform writings were also found with a recipe to make it:

"You cook the bread, break it into crumbs, prepare the mixture in water, and you will get a drink that transforms people into cheerful, outgoing and happy."

Tabla de arcilla sumeria que contiene los primeros escritos que mencionan a la cerveza.
Figura 3. Sumerian clay tablet containing the first writings that mention beer.

Bibliography

Desalle, R., Tattersall, I. (2019). A Natural History of Beer. United States: Yale University Press.

Hardwick, W. (2002). Historia mundial de la elaboración de cerveza y su desarrollo en las américas. En: Jurado, J., Russell, I. (Eds.) El cervecero en la práctica (1 – 36). St. Paul, Minnesota, Estados Unidos: Master Brewers Association of the Américas.

Hornsey, I. (2003). A history of beer and brewing. Cambridge, UK: The Royal Society of Chemistry.

Liu, L., Wang, J., Rosenberg, D., Zhao, H., Lengyel, G., Nadel, D. (2018). Fermented beverage and food storage in 13,000 y-old stone mortars at Raqefet Cave, Israel: Investigating Natufian ritual feasting. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 21, 783 – 793.

Poelmans, E., Swinnen, J. (2011). From Monasteries to Multinationals (and Back): A Historical Review of the Beer Economy. LICOS Discussion Paper No. 294/2011.

Smith, G. D. (2014). Beer: A Global History. London, UK: Reaktion Books.

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