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Oldest brewery in the world discovered, was the making of beer-13,000 years ago

Under a microscope, Professor Li Liu finds and records starch grains

(Image credit: L. A. Cicero/Stanford University News Service )

Researchers from the U.S. and Israel have found evidence of the world’s oldest beer in an Israeli cave.

Scientists studied three of 13,000 year old stone mortars were discovered in Raqefet Cave in the vicinity of what is now the Israeli city of Haifa. Residues confirmed that the mortars were used for the brewing of wheat and barley, as well as for the storage of food.

Experts from the University of Stanford and the University of Haifa participated in the study. “This is good for the oldest record of man-made alcohol in the world,” said Li Liu, a professor of Chinese archaeology at Stanford university, in a statement.

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The cave formed a part of a prehistoric cemetery used by the Natufian people, the offer of a prompt for the beer role in their culture. Experts believe that the Natufians brewed beer as part of a ritual feast of that respect for the dead. “This discovery shows that the making of alcohol is not per se a result of the agricultural surplus production, but it was developed for ritual purposes, and spiritual needs, at least to some extent, prior to agriculture,” said Liu.

A map shows the location of Raqefet Cave and additional Natufian sites in Mt. Carmel; field photographs of the studied boulder mortars, and the cave floor (scale and arrow: 20 cm); a functional reconstruction of the mortar: a stone mortar is used for the storage of plants in a basket with the stone on the top, and a bedrock mortar used for pounding and cooking of plants, and the brewing of beer.

(Credits to Elsevier, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports the Credits for the photos: Dror Maayan; Graphic design: Anat Regev-Gisis)

The research, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, notes that the earliest bread remains were discovered recently discovered from a Natufian site in Jordan. The bread remains could be between 11,600 and 14,600 years old, according to Liu, who says that beer findings may be of 11,700 to 13,700 years ago.

The Natufians probably made use of a three-stage brewing process that for the first time in the starch of wheat or barley starch. The grain would then be pounded or heated and then left to ferment with the air and wild yeast.

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Prehistoric beer, however, was very different than our modern brews, according to Jiajing Wang, a doctoral student at Stanford university and co-author of the study. The Natufian brew was probably a “multi-ingredient concoction, such as porridge, or thin gruel,” the study says.

The prehistoric brewery is the latest fascinating archaeological discovery in Israel. Earlier this year, an international team of researchers has announced the discovery of the earliest modern human fossil outside of Africa at Misliya Cave on the mountain. Carmel in the north of Israel. Dated between 175,000 and 200,000 years ago, the jawbone indicates that modern humans left the continent of Africa at least 50,000 years earlier than previously thought.

In 2015, researchers also found a partial human skull in a cave in Northern Israel dating back to about 55,000 years ago. The fossil remains are linked to the migration of people from Africa to Europe.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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