'Drinking beer in a blissful mood'

04/06/05

New study considers the importance of alcohol production in the ancient world

While the modern era has a fondness for the business lunch, the ancient world viewed the feast as an important arena of political action. Yet, new research in the April 2005 issue of Current Anthropology suggests that the story of how the food and drink arrived to the table is just as critical to our understanding of the past as the social behaviors at the table.

Since alcoholic beverages were liberally consumed at many of these feasts (often occurring over several days), a sponsor often faced the daunting problem of assembling prodigious amounts of alcohol in the weeks preceding a feast. In this paper, researchers from the University of California at Santa Barbara, consider certain traditional methods for making maize beer, barley and emmer wheat beer, rice beer, agave wine, and grape wine from a variety of regions around the world. By exploring the recipes used to make each of these beverages, they demonstrate how details of each drink's manufacture, such as shelf life, plant maturation, and labor crunches, offered challenges and opportunities to sponsors who attempted to organize their mass-production.

They argue that "differences in the operational chains of food and beverages helped to shape feasting strategies by presenting both diverse processing challenges and unusual opportunities."

Until now, archaeological investigations of feasting have tended to focus on the political ramifications of the event itself. This study is unique in its focus on the production struggles that lead up to the days of a feast, suggesting that these operational chains were significant to understanding the organization of the political economies of ancient societies.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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