Burial site reveals evidence of beer consumption 9,000 years ago in China – HeritageDaily

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A new study has uncovered evidence of ritual beer drinking, dating back 9,000 years, at a burial site in Qiaotou town, in southern Zhejiang province, China.

Archaeologists have discovered a deposit of jars placed on a platform mound, which was probably used for rituals in honor of the dead.

The mound contained two human skeletons and several pottery pits with high quality pottery vessels, many of which were complete vessels. The pottery was painted with white slip and some of the vessels were decorated with abstract patterns.

As the study reports, these artefacts are probably among the “first known painted pottery in the world”. No such pottery has been found on other sites dating from this period.

The research team analyzed different types of pottery found in Qiaotou, which were of different sizes. Some of the pottery vessels were relatively small and similar in size to drinking vessels in use today and those found in other parts of the world. Each of the jars could basically be held in one hand like a cup, unlike the storage containers, which are much larger.

Seven of the 20 vessels, which were part of their analysis, appeared to be long-necked Hu jars, which were used for drinking alcohol in later historical periods.

To confirm that the containers were used for drinking alcohol, the research team analyzed residues of microfossils – starch, phytolith (fossilized plant residues) and fungi, extracted from the interior surfaces of the pots. Residues were compared with control samples obtained from the soil surrounding the vessels.

The team identified microbotanical (starch granules and phytoliths) and microbial (mold and yeast) residues in the jars that corresponded to beer fermentation residues and are not found naturally in soil or other areas. artifacts unless they contained alcohol.

“Through an analysis of the residue from Qiaotou pots, our results revealed that the pottery vessels were used to hold beer, in its most general sense – a fermented drink made from rice (Oryza sp.), A grain called Job’s tears (Coix lacryma-jobi) and unidentified tubers, ”says co-author Jiajing Wang, assistant professor of anthropology at Dartmouth.

“This ancient beer, however, would not have been like the IPA we have today. Instead, it was likely a slightly fermented, sweet drink, which was likely cloudy in color. “

The results also showed that phytoliths from rice hulls and other plants were also present in the pot residues. They may have been added to beer as a fermentation agent.
Although the Yangtze River Valley in southern China is known today as the heart of the country’s rice, domestication of rice occurred gradually between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago, so 9 000 years ago, rice was still in the early stages of domestication.

At that time, most communities were hunter-gatherers who relied primarily on foraging. As the researchers explain in the study, since harvesting and processing rice was labor-intensive, beer in Qiaotou was likely a ritually important drink / drink.
Analysis of the residue from the jars also showed traces of mold, which was used in the beer-making process.

The mold found in the pots in Qiaotou was very similar to the mold found in koji, which is used to make sake and other fermented rice drinks in East Asia. The results predate previous research, which found that mold was used in fermentation processes 8,000 years ago in China.

Beer is technically any fermented beverage made from cultures through a two-step processing process. In the first phase, the enzymes convert the starch into sugar (saccharification). In the second phase, the yeasts convert the sugar into alcohol and other states like carbon dioxide (fermentation). As the researchers in the study explain, the mold acts much like an agent for both processes, serving as a saccharification-fermentation starter.

“We don’t know how people made the mold 9,000 years ago, because fermentation can occur naturally,” says Wang. “If people had leftover rice and the grains got moldy, they might have noticed that the grains got sweeter and more alcoholic with age. While people may not have known about the biochemistry associated with moldy grains, they likely observed the fermentation process and exploited it through trial and error.

Given that the Qiaotou pottery was found near the graves in a non-residential area, the researchers conclude that the beer jars were likely used in ritual ceremonies related to the burial of the dead. They speculate that ritual consumption may have been integral to building social relationships and cooperation, which served as a precursor to the complex rice-growing societies that emerged 4,000 years later. Find out more

DARTMOUTH COLLEGE


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