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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 12/25/2009 :  05:40:12  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
This should be a no-brainer; when has our species as a whole ever turned down a chance to catch a buzz?

But could it be that the production of alcohol was the ancient basis for civilization? Was our entire agriculture formed as a means of supplying the basic necessities for Neolithic moonshiners?

I wouldn't be at all surprised, although, to pick the nit, moonshining involves an only slightly younger art invented by those sainted alchemists that came up with the distillation process. The folks mentioned here were just making homebrew.

Anyhow:
Brewing Up a Civilization
By Frank Thadeusz

Did our Neolithic ancestors turn to agriculture so that they could be sure of a tipple? US Archaeologist Patrick McGovern thinks so. The expert on identifying traces of alcohol in prehistoric sites reckons the thirst for a brew was enough of an incentive to start growing crops.

It turns out the fall of man probably didn't begin with an apple. More likely, it was a handful of mushy figs that first led humankind astray.

Here is how the story likely began -- a prehistoric human picked up some dropped fruit from the ground and popped it unsuspectingly into his or her mouth. The first effect was nothing more than an agreeably bittersweet flavor spreading across the palate. But as alcohol entered the bloodstream, the brain started sending out a new message -- whatever that was, I want more of it!

The article continues on to describe how Dr. McGovern arrived at this unusual conclusion and gives something of a history of our ancestors penchant for getting loaded whenever crock stopped bubbling, It was probably some pretty foul hooch by our standard's:
Humankind's first encounters with alcohol in the form of fermented fruit probably occurred in just such an accidental fashion. But once they were familiar with the effect, archaeologist Patrick McGovern believes, humans stopped at nothing in their pursuit of frequent intoxication.

A secure supply of alcohol appears to have been part of the human community's basic requirements much earlier than was long believed. As early as around 9,000 years ago, long before the invention of the wheel, inhabitants of the Neolithic village Jiahu in China were brewing a type of mead with an alcohol content of 10 percent, McGovern discovered recently.

McGovern analyzed clay shards found during excavations in China's Yellow River Valley at his Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

The bearded archaeologist is recognized around the world as an expert when it comes to identifying traces of alcoholic drinks on prehistoric finds. He ran so-called liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry on the clay remnants from Asia and found traces of tartaric acid -- one of the main acids present in wine -- and beeswax in the shards' pores. It appears that prehistoric humans in China combined fruit and honey into an intoxicating brew.

Clever Survival Strategy

Additionally, plant sterols point to wild rice as an ingredient. Lacking any knowledge of chemistry, prehistoric humans eager for the intoxicating effects of alcohol apparently mixed clumps of rice with saliva in their mouths to break down the starches in the grain and convert them into malt sugar.

These pioneering brewers would then spit the chewed up rice into their brew. Husks and yeasty foam floated on top of the liquid, so they used long straws to drink from narrow necked jugs. Alcohol is still consumed this way in some regions of China.

McGovern sees this early fermentation process as a clever survival strategy. "Consuming high energy sugar and alcohol was a fabulous solution for surviving in a hostile environment with few natural resources," he explains.

The most recent finds from China are consistent with McGovern's chain of evidence, which suggests that the craft of making alcohol spread rapidly to various locations around the world during the Neolithic period. Shamans and village alchemists mixed fruit, herbs, spices, and grains together in pots until they formed a drinkable concoction.

But that wasn't enough for McGovern. He carried the theory much further, aiming at a complete reinterpretation of humanity's history. His bold thesis, which he lays out in his book "Uncorking the Past. The Quest for Wine, Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverage," states that agriculture -- and with it the entire Neolithic Revolution, which began about 11,000 years ago -- are ultimately results of the irrepressible impulse toward drinking and intoxication.

"Available evidence suggests that our ancestors in Asia, Mexico, and Africa cultivated wheat, rice, corn, barley, and millet primarily for the purpose of producing alcoholic beverages," McGovern explains. While they were at it, he believes, drink-loving early civilizations managed to ensure their basic survival.

Well, I dunno. It certainly looks good in print though, doesn't it? In fact, as the article continues, it looks even better. And I am reminded that the ceremonial use of alcohol seems to have always been important to us; the symbolic vampirism of the Catholic church being an example. Another example concerns one of Jesus' most famous "miracles." How many treaties and negotiations are sealed with a glass at their conclusion? In fact, when you think about it, alcohol in one form or another permeates our cultures world wide and it's effects reach well beyond this morning's hangover.




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

R.Wreck
SFN Regular

USA
1191 Posts

Posted - 12/25/2009 :  11:20:28   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send R.Wreck a Private Message  Reply with Quote
A yuletide toast to our ancient ancestors!

The foundation of morality is to . . . give up pretending to believe that for which there is no evidence, and repeating unintelligible propositions about things beyond the possibliities of knowledge.
T. H. Huxley

The Cattle Prod of Enlightened Compassion
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AnthroGeek
New Member

USA
38 Posts

Posted - 12/25/2009 :  12:20:46   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send AnthroGeek a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Well it is said that civilization began with fermentation!

A series of fun one-liners about various pseudoscientific claims and, even better, a concise description of the scientific method - Ken Feder on Skeptic Friends Network from "Frauds, Myths and Mysteries"
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The Rat
SFN Regular

Canada
1342 Posts

Posted - 12/28/2009 :  19:04:57   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit The Rat's Homepage Send The Rat a Private Message  Reply with Quote

I foresee the naming of a new species - Homo alcoholensis.


Bailey's second law; There is no relationship between the three virtues of intelligence, education, and wisdom.

You fiend! Never have I encountered such corrupt and foul-minded perversity! Have you ever considered a career in the Church? - The Bishop of Bath and Wells, Blackadder II

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Cuneiformist
The Imperfectionist

USA
4954 Posts

Posted - 12/29/2009 :  09:15:54   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Cuneiformist a Private Message  Reply with Quote
There has been some discussion about something similar happening in ancient Mesopotamia, where the impetus for growing barley was spurred by the fact that it ferments into beer...
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