Archaeologists’ discovery of a 5,000-year-old Chinese recipe for beer has them rethinking the history of a staple food

beerAP/Toby Talbot

For a few years, Chinese scholars had suspected that a group of people in ancient China were brewing beer before it was cool. But there was no direct evidence of this ancient boozing.

Until now.

A new study of ancient pottery unearthed at an archaeological site in the Central Plains of northern China in what’s now known as the cradle of Chinese civilization, hints at a 5,000-year-old beer recipe.

But that’s not all. The finding also could rewrite the history of a key grain in the ancient civilization.

The researchers also found traces of barley, 1,000 years earlier than previous evidence had suggested the grain was introduced to China as an agricultural staple.

Gelogis

The site, in a site called Mijiaya, was excavated from 2004 until 2006. Professor Li Liu, co-author of the study, realized that some of the assemblages of pottery, which were similar to brewing equipment used during the period of 3400-2900 BC, might have been used to make alcohol. It had been suggested that ancient Chinese funnels were used for making alcohol for years, but this is the first direct evidence ever found of local beer brewing in the area.

16 01465largeAP/Toby TalbotIn the study, published in published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers extracted and analyzed residues from the artifacts. Yellowish remnants found in the pottery and funnels, as well as the presence of stoves in the pits which could have been used in the brewing process, provided the first direct evidence of on site beer brewing. They also found traces of oxalate, a byproduct of beer brewing that develops during the steeping, mashing, and fermentation process.

When the researchers analyzed starch grains found inside the artifacts, they found evidence of broomcorn millets, barley, a type of grain called Job’s tears, and tubers. This recipe mixes Chinese and Western traditions, using barley from the West and millet, Job’s tears, and tubers from China, Jiajing Wang, lead author of the study Ph.D student in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Stanford, told Business Insider in an email.

The early presence of barley suggests the grain was initially introduced to the area as an ingredient for alcohol production rather than for agriculture. This contradicts previous beliefs that the grain had only been introduced 1,000 years later for farming purposes.

The authors of the study believe that the beer brewing could be “associated with the increased social complexity in the Central Plain during the fourth millennium BC,” contributing to the emergence of hierarchical societies in the area.

The evidence suggests that the Yangshao people may have concocted a 5,000-year-old beer recipe that ushered the cultural practice of beer brewing into ancient China, a press release says.

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