Burial ritualsAnalyses of the mortars suggested that the brew was developed by nomadic Natufian hunter-gatherers in rituals used to honor their dead, who were buried on beds of flowers nearby in the cave. The scientists say the discovery is important in that it, "indicates that making alcohol was not necessarily a result of agricultural surplus production, but it was developed for ritual purposes and spiritual needs, at least to some extent, prior to agriculture," according to Professor Li Liu of Stanford.
The archaeologists were searching for clues as to the diet of the Natufian people — who were active in the eastern Mediterranean between 15,000 and 11,500 years ago before settling down — when they discovered plant residue in the mortars. Upon analysis, it became clear that the residue was from fermented grain. The team says wheat or barley starch was likely germinated in water, drained, mashed, heated and ultimately fermented with airborne wild yeast.
The proof is in the brewIn order to prove their theory as to the content of the mortars, the scientists set about to test the proposition empirically by recreating the brew. They say that what they created was less like what we would think of as beer today and was more akin to porridge. The drink, they say, also contained less alcohol than today's beverage. The scientists also say that residue created in their experiment strongly resembled their findings in the cave.
The paper also noted that the earliest known bread remains were recently discovered at a Natufian site in eastern Jordan. Liu says these could be anywhere from 11,600 to 14,600 years old, whereas the beer could be between 11,700 and 13,700 years old.