Jun 01, 2016 I Brett Tingley

Beer Snobs, Rejoice: 5000-Year Old Beer Discovered In China

A team of Stanford University archaeologists recently published their findings after unearthing a 5000-year old collection of  beer brewing equipment that gave clues about the ingredients in an ancient beer recipe. The team was excavating a site along China’s Wei River when the discovery was made, which marks one of the earliest known examples of brewing in human history.

The archaeologists were examining a set of underground chambers that were discovered in China’s Shaanxi province when a collection of specialized jugs, bottles, and urns were found. After examining remnants of liquids inside the vessels, the team determined that these implements were indeed brewing tools and even contained traces of ancient beer.

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One of the brewing vessels discovered at the site.

Using a chemical identification process known as ion chromatography, scientists were able to determine the chemical composition of the beer residue. In it, they found barley, millet, and wheat, as well as several indigenous Chinese tubers that are often used in Chinese medicine.

The find is significant because it implies that crops had been devoted solely to beer-making far earlier than historians and archaeologists previously thought. Before this discovery, it was believed that brewing began when farmers had leftover grains after harvests. The specialized tools and vessels also indicate a high level of sophisticated knowledge in temperature control and fermentation, implying that the Neolithic Yangshao culture that produced them might have been more advanced than previously thought.

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An ancient earthen funnel found among the brewing equipment.

According to their published findings, the Stanford archaeologists were also surprised to discover barley among the ingredients, as barley was believed to have been introduced to Asia much later in history:

Our findings imply that early beer making may have motivated the initial translocation of barley from the Western Eurasia into the Central Plain of China before the crop became a part of agricultural subsistence in the region 3,000 years later.

Due to China’s blisteringly fast rate of urban development, it is fairly common for developers and construction crews to unearth archaeological sites. Unfortunately, Chinese real estate developers and the big money behind them don’t want to be delayed by these discoveries, so these sites are often destroyed before archeologists and historians are allowed to preserve them. Luckily for brewing enthusiasts, the site in which the recent brewing discovery was made was excavated in 2006 before developers built high-rise residential buildings in its place.

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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