Around 5,800 years ago, beer production contributed to the economic and ideological integration of Egyptian society
What did the elites of ancient Egypt drink during their celebrations? Centuries before the pharaohs emerged in Egypt, the wealthiest of the place drank a thick beer similar to porridge in their ceremonies about 5,800 years ago.
A new study led by Jiajing Wang , an archaeologist at Dartmouth University, in the United States, revealed the type of beer consumed by the elites of ancient Egypt. Wang’s team analyzed several pottery fragments found in Hierakonpolis, an ancient city in southern Egypt.
Researchers detected beer residue in five beige bottles, probably used for bulk transport. In addition, four glass-shaped containers made of fine clay coated with slip (a mixture of clay and water) with a black lid also revealed beer residue.
Status symbol in this life and the next
Wang explained that beer was not simply a staple at that time, but a symbol of status and authority, important in the celebrations and funeral rituals of the elite in this life and the next. Mainly made up of wheat, barley and grass, this porridge was thick, probably cloudy, sweet and with a low alcohol content.
The researchers found starch granules, yeast cells, and a small number of phytoliths, tiny structures in plant tissue that remain even after the rest of the plant decomposes.
They also analyzed tiny beer stone crystals, also known as calcium oxalate, a type of scale formed by chemical reactions that is the scourge of modern brewers even today.
The plant material in the residue suggests that the beer mash was filtered to remove the cereal husks. They also found evidence of starch damage, the combined result of malting and mashing near the start of brewing, a process that rarely occurs in other food processing techniques.
600 years before the first Egyptian pharaoh
So far more than a dozen old brewery sites have been identified in Hierakonpolis, although the details are still being investigated. It is known that the beer produced in one of the factories in Hierakonpolis served for ritual activities in an elite cemetery near this place.
For this study they used a method called microfossil residue analysis in 33 fragments of ceramic vessels in Hierakonpolis. The fragments are dated between 3,800 and 3,600 BC. n. e., some 600 years before the time of the first Egyptian pharaoh , who scholars believe is Narmer, considered the founder of the first dynasty and, in turn, the first king of a unified Egypt.
Beer production probably contributed to the economic and ideological integration of society, the rise of the elite, and a unified Egypt. Furthermore, the brewing of the drink at Hierakonpolis was a highly organized and specialized production, the researchers said.