13,000 years-old brewery discovered in Israel: Your favourite drink just got historical

By Prarthana Mitra

At a time when craft beer and microbreweries have completely taken over, a group of archaeologists from the US and Israel has made a pleasantly surprising discovery. The team from Stanford University and University of Haifa recently stumbled upon evidence that puts alcohol production at least 5,000 years earlier than was universally perceived.

Here’s what they found

Among the remains found in an eastern Mediterranean burial cave site, situated in present-day Israel, were three stone mortars dating back to 13,000 years ago.

Dani Nadel, an excavator from the University of Haifa told the media, “We exposed a Natufian burial area with about 30 individuals; a wealth of small finds such as flint tools, animal bones and ground stone implements, and about 100 stone mortars and cupmarks,” said Nadel.

According to their analysis, these vats could have been used to brew wheat/barley, as well as receptacles for food storage. “Alcohol making and food storage were among the major technological innovations that eventually led to the development of civilisations in the world, and archaeological science is a powerful means to help reveal their origins and decode their contents,” said Li Liu, from Stanford University.

The study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports suggests that beer brewing was in vogue among the Natufian community that settled in the Eastern Mediterranean region between the Paleolithic and Neolithic age, long before the first evidence of beer brewing was discovered in northern China at least five millennia.

This puts the Natufians as the pioneers of cereal-based beer brewing, a practice which precedes even agriculture by that measure. Several theorists in the 60’s believed beer brewing to have been partially responsible for the advent of cereal-cultivation in the southern Levant.

The community and the Raqefat region continue to baffle historians and archaeologists alike, for the complex social and cultural fabric. The current study shows that these semi-sedentary people who inhabited the Raqefet Cave collected locally available plants, stored malted seeds, and brewed beer as a part of their ritual feasts. Researchers who carefully scrutinised the mortars said that the Natufians exploited at least seven species of plants, including wheat or barley, oat, legumes and bast fibres.

Nadel believes that the latest of the Raqefet Cave remains provides “a very vivid and colourful picture of Natufian lifeways, their technological capabilities and inventions.”

Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius