Pleistocene Alcohol

Our evolutionary ancestors accidentally got drunk when they binged on fermented fruit. This still happens to modern day species of monkeys and apes dependent upon fruit for a major part of their diet. In warm tropical regions the sugar in overripe fruits naturally ferments into alcohol when airborne yeast attaches to mold growing on the fruit. Modern humans discovered the fermentation process during the Pleistocene, though evidence is scant. The oldest known evidence of humans deliberately manufacturing alcohol comes from Raqefet Cave near Haifa, Israel, and it dates to 13,000 years BP. Archaeologists actually call the site a brewery. They found traces of barley and wheat beer in stone containers. Bread is likely just a byproduct of beer-making. The euphoria from alcohol consumption is addicting and far more motivating than satisfying hunger with bread when they had plenty of fish and venison to eat and could cook grains into cereal. Archaeologists also discovered evidence of early wine-making in northern China that dates to 9,000 years ago. This wine was made with honey, rice, and grape and/or hawthorn fruit. The latter is a small apple-like fruit that grows on scrubby bushes.

Microscope World Blog: Kids Science Microscope Activity: Yeast

Natural yeast present in the atmosphere converts sugar to alcohol and also makes bread rise.

13,000-Year-Old Brewery Found in Israel | Archaeology | Sci-News.com

Location of Raqefet Cave and photos of the actual stone mortars used 13,000 years ago to store beer.  This ancient beer tasted nothing like modern beer.  It was sour and yeasty tasting.  Hops weren’t added to beer until the Middle Ages. Image from http://www.sci-news.com/archaeology/raqefet-cave-brewery-06412.html

Humans probably discovered, forgot, then rediscovered how to make alcohol dozens of times during the Pleistocene.  Humans have independently discovered the fermentation process at multiple sites around the world just in the past 6,000 years.  However, Pleistocene humans mostly used skins or wooden containers.  Evidence from such organic materials has long since decayed into dust, and the hypothesis that humans commonly manufactured alcohol for tens of thousands of years is impossible to prove.

I think alcohol is the most wonderful all-purpose medicine ever discovered by man.  For myself I prescribe alcohol to treat depression, anxiety attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder, Parkinson’s tremors, insomnia, back-ache, stomach-ache, tooth-ache, and erectile disfunction.  If I ever went to a doctor, he would prescribe 9 different drugs to treat each of these different problems.  Imagine how much that would cost.  I’d be spending half my life waiting in the pharmacy.  Oh yeah, and I also use alcohol to get high.  It’s what helps me get through the daily drudgery of my pathetic existence.

References:

Alex, Bridget

“The Search for the World’s Oldest Alcohol”

Discovery Magazine June 2019

McGovern, P. et. al.

“Fermented Beverages of Pre-and Proto- Historic China”

PNAS December 2004

 

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5 Responses to “Pleistocene Alcohol”

  1. 3fj6tr31 Says:

    Damn man. Hey at lest you can take pride in the fact that you have a anthropology blog thats 100 times more interesting than any of the other ones ive found

  2. stephenfmccann Says:

    Sorry for your melancholy. Churchill referred to it as his black dog. Unfortunately, even small amounts of alcohol make me feel less happy. Fortunately, I can get by just fine without it. I might try weed sometime if it ever becomes legal in my state. Perhaps you could do a post on ancient humans and their use of other mind-altering substances.

  3. Wine and Weather: A History Says:

    […] in Jancis Robinson, The Oxford Companion to Wine (Third Edition, Oxford, 2006). [2] https://markgelbart.wordpress.com/2020/11/28/pleistocene-alcohol/ [accessed 2/9/22]. [3] Giancarlo G. Bianchi and Nicholas I. McCave, ‘Holocene Periodicity in […]

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