Monday, 7 September 2020

pieces from my thesis #3: conclusions

As a bit of a celebration and also to help kick start our blog again, I decided to publish some pieces of the M.Phil thesis that I wrote twenty years ago. The book has been sitting on my shelf for a while. I read it recently and, apart from new archaeological evidence and a better understanding of malt and malting technologies, there is little I would change.

There's a copy on my Researchgate page here. It's not quite like the familiar red BAR books of the International Series because I made a new front page but the rest is the same. I aim to publish some more pieces of it on this blog in the future. Other published papers and articles can also be found there.

I hear that BAR (British Archaeological Reports) will be re printing the old BAR reports and mine is one of them. So that's something to look forward to. If you have access to a University Library they should be able to obtain a copy. The previous two blog posts are the introduction and the summary and discussion. I'm happy to answer any questions, respond to comments and would love to hear from people. Get in touch via the comments section if you have something to say!

And so to the conclusions.

Conclusions

This research has established an assemblage and a material culture pattern for brewing activity in prehistory. Suitable buildings are required for grain storage and for malting and otherwise processing the grain. A malting floor can be made of beaten earth or clay and needs to be kept smooth and in good repair. Hearths, ovens or kilns are useful for drying the malt and as a heat source for mashing and fermentation. Suitable vessels for mashing, fermentation, storage and consumption must be made and access to running water and/or drains is essential. Such conditions and material culture are good indicators of malting, mashing and brewing activity.

Women were the very first grain cultivators and processors in the Near East, the Levant, Europe and the British Isles. Grain was a special crop because of its unique ability to produce sugars. Women, with their understanding of grain cultivation and processing rituals and their knowledge of the use of wild plants and herbs for both culinary and medicinal uses, held positions of status and significance in Neolithic society.

Brewing uses few ingredients, only requiring malted grain, herbal preservatives, water and yeast. These ingredients may survive in the archaeological record in a number of ways. Accidents in drying the malted grain, as happened at Eberdingen-Hochdorf can occur.

Residues or sediments of the brewing process may occasionally survive in unusual contexts, such as in the sealed Bronze Age cist graves at North Mains and Ashgrove. Residues of barley without any other plant remains indicate the residues that result from washing the sugars from the mashed barley or ‘sparging the wort’. Those barley residues that contain pollen or macro plant remains indicate the addition of herbs during the boil prior to fermentation.

The ease with which the barley malt and mash can be made convinces me that the manufacture of these products was a main interest and concern in the collection and cultivation of grains by Epi-Palaeolithic and Natufian cultures. The production and manufacture of this liquid product would have created a need for vessels and containers that were suitable for the storage and processing of the product, hence the bitumen lined baskets and experiments with White Ware and ceramics.

The spread of grain cultivation and processing from the Levant across Europe and into the British Isles was accompanied by a developing ceramics technology and the domestication of animals. The animals would have eaten the ‘spent grain’ with as much relish as people, adults and children ate the sweet malt products and drank the ale.

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Wednesday, 2 September 2020

pieces from my thesis #2 summary and discussion

It has been said that quite a lot of people only bother to read the Introduction and Conclusion of any piece of academic work. I have no idea whether or not this is true. I like to read the bit in the middle as well.

I posted the introduction to my thesis in the previous post. It was an M.Phil submitted to the University of Manchester in 1999 and published as a British Archaeological Report (BAR) S1213 "Barley Malt and Ale in the Neolithic" in 2004. Here's the summary and discussion of my study into malt and ale in the Neolithic. Since submitting my thesis I've gone on to look into malt, malting, beer brewing technologies and the archaeological evidence for this kind of grain processing in more depth. I've worked with beer historians, beer writers, maltsters, brewers and cereal scientists.

The conclusion to my M.Phil will be in the next post. It's a lot shorter than this, you will be pleased to hear. Reference details are at the end. I hope you enjoy reading this piece from my thesis, written between 1996 and 1999:

Summary
This research began as an investigation into the probable methods and techniques of Bronze Age maltsters and brewers in the British Isles and Northern Europe. The original intention was to re-create a Bronze Age ale, based on organic residue evidence that has been discovered in Beaker drinking vessels (Dickson 1978, Barclay et al 1983) and using similar equipment to that available during the Bronze Age.

Debate within academic archaeology about wine, ale, beer and other alcoholic drinks usually tends to concentrate on the social aspects of consumption rather than on the practicalities of manufacture. With this research I aimed to redress the balance and explain the fundamental biochemical reactions and processes that are involved in the malting, mashing and fermentation of grain into ale. These processes remain unchanged across the millennia and allow us to understand something more of past rituals and daily lives.

It has been argued that beer drinking was a Bronze Age phenomenon and that it was part of a ‘cult package’ that spread across Europe from one group to another (Burgess & Shennan 1976:312). More recent analysis of the origins of alcoholic drinks has suggests “the most plausible scenario for the beginnings of alcohol production lies in the domestication of the sugar-rich tree crops of the Mediterranean”, such as date, olive, fig, grape and pomegranate (Sherratt 1995:25). Certainly, this is an area where the fermentation of naturally occurring fruit sugars could have been the impetus for the first fermented wines. But beer and ale are products of the grain, a crop that was first gathered and processed by epi Palaeolithic and early Neolithic groups in the Levant and the Near East from the 9th millennium BC onwards.

Grain cultivation and grain processing eventually spread from the Near East and Levant across Europe reaching the British Isles c4000 BC. This research has covered a broad geographical and archaeological range. It has investigated the evidence of the earliest grain processing communities in the Neolithic Levant, Near East, Northern Europe, Orkney, Ireland and Britain. These early agricultural communities have been investigated with one question in mind - was the material culture suitable for the manufacture of malt and ale from the grain? 

The emphasis throughout this research has been on the practicalities and the specific rituals that are involved in the transformation of grains into malt, malt sugars and ale.

Ian Hodder (1997) has argued that there is a need for archaeologists to question long-held assumptions and ‘taken-for-granted’ interpretations in archaeology. He has stressed the need to re-interpret the available archaeological evidence holistically, not just looking at isolated aspects of a site but looking instead at the whole cultural and material assemblage. My research has taken this approach.

Discussion
It has been assumed in most of the archaeological literature that barley, wheat and other cereal grains were a source of carbohydrate in the prehistoric diet and that grain was grown to be processed into only bread, flour, porridge or gruel. It has also been assumed that the main function of quern stones was to grind grain into flour for bread. Querns are just as useful to crush the malted grain prior to mashing. A search through the index and contents lists of books and articles related to the Neolithic cultures of Europe and Britain shows a significant lack of references to malt, beer, ale, grain processing techniques, brewing or malt sugars. Cereal grains, when discovered in the archaeological record, are often noted as having been ‘parched’ or ‘roasted’, the assumption being that the grain has simply been harvested and then dried for optimum storage. If this ‘parching’ of grain occurred after the grain had begun to germinate then the necessary enzymes to convert the starch into sugars have been released. With a minimum of equipment and resources the malted and dried barley could then very easily be transformed into a sweet malt liquid that can then be fermented into an alcoholic drink, such as beer or ale.

In order to assess the suitability of Neolithic material culture for such grain processing techniques it is essential to understand the processes, methods and techniques that are involved in malting, mashing and fermentation. Because the biochemical laws governing these processes are unchanged across the millennia it is possible to accurately re-create ancient grain processing techniques experimentally, as shown in Chapter One. The biochemistry is complicated but the techniques and methodologies are relatively simple. Brewing is a craft requiring knowledge, skill, practice and experience to successfully transform grain into ale. Pasteur and Tyndall’s experiments into Fermentation in the mid 19th century demonstrated the scientific explanation for a biochemical process that had, for millennia, been believed to be a magical and a spontaneous event.

Wild barley and wheat grew naturally in the area known as the Fertile Crescent, that is, the Levant, the Tigris/Euphrates valley and the mountains in northern Syria. Cereal grains were first gathered by Natufian groups in the 9th/8th millennia BC alongside other species of plants, such as lentils and peas. These people were hunters and gatherers. They exploited the natural resources of their environment to the full and this, of course, would have included the gathering of wild grain.

If these wild cereal grains were allowed to grow a little before being ground or crushed with stones, then people would have noticed that there was an obvious visible and practical benefit - the husk of the grain would be broken down and malt flour would be produced naturally. The task of crushing or grinding slightly germinated grain is much easier than crushing ungerminated grain. Invisibly, germination has released enzymes that convert the starch of the grain into malt sugars and produce malt flour. Any gentle heating of the now malted and crushed barley with water would produce a sweet barley mash and malt liquid, so long as the enzymes were not killed in water temperatures that were too hot, that is, above 67 degrees centigrade.

This saccharification of the barley malt can be seen, smelt and tasted. Knowledge of the existence of enzymes and an understanding of the complex enzymatic reactions are not necessary for this simple process of mashing to be successful. Malting and the subsequent mashing of grains were perhaps among the first grain processing activities in the Fertile Crescent. It is easy to appreciate the wonder and the amazement of these early Neolithic cultures when first introduced to this phenomenon. Here was a food resource that could be processed into sweetness. It was quite unlike other food processing activities that would have been involved with the other locally gathered natural resources, such as the preparation and cooking of peas or lentils. Prior to the discovery of sweet barley mash, the only other source of sugars would have been fruits or honey. 

The Biblical lands, that is, the area of the Levant, are known as and referred to as ‘a Land flowing with Milk and Honey’. Could this description originally have referred to a land where milk was obtained from domesticated animals and sweet malts were processed from the grain, a land where people had learnt to tame the wild animals and to process grain into sweetness?

Malt liquid and barley mash are easy to make, versatile food products and they are very good to eat. They can be mixed with milk to make a delicious and highly nutritious food resource. Malt contains digestible B-Vitamins that would have improved the health of those who began to eat it, although the evidence of the early Natufians’ dental caries might suggest an adverse effect on their dental health.

The step from the malting and mashing of barley to that of alcoholic fermentation is not a difficult one to imagine. Wild yeasts would have flourished in a sweet mash or in malt liquids that had been left to stand. Within covered vessels, conditions are perfect for an alcoholic rather than a lactic fermentation. With careful observation, practice and experimentation, the earliest grain processors would have learnt to manage the several stages from grain to ale. These techniques would then have been passed on from one generation to the next.

Because of its unique properties, grain was probably regarded as a special or as a sacred crop in Neolithic times. There were many complex rituals surrounding the cultivation, harvesting and processing of the grain in both prehistoric and historic times. Many of these rituals are still celebrated today, such as the annual Harvest Festival, although now within the context of the Christian religion rather than pagan female deities.

Hilda Ellis Davidson (1998) has produced a detailed and fascinating study of the various goddesses who were worshipped in Northern Europe in prehistoric and historic times. She discusses the important part played by women in ancient and prehistoric cultures. It is the culmination of many years that she has spent studying North European mythology, legends and traditions. She notes that there are very many complex rituals surrounding grain cultivation, such as the preparation of the ground for the sowing of the grain in spring (Davidson 1998:58-68). Some are described in historical texts and some are evidenced by archaeological finds of ards buried in ritual contexts, for example a perfectly preserved ard was discovered in 1994, buried in the ditch of a henge near Dumfries and dated to the early 3rd millennium BC (ibid:60) She describes the ritual uses of the plough, for marking territorial or village boundaries (ibid:64) and for the cutting of ritual furrows to celebrate the beginning of Spring and the new season for cultivation (ibid:59). There were strong associations between the sowing of the seed and the goddess of the grain, with springtime rituals involving human and animal sacrifice taking place in Northern Europe until the 19th Century AD (ibid: 67).

Hilda Ellis Davidson’s work has been referred to occasionally throughout this thesis, but since the emphasis of my study has been on the practicalities of the manufacture of malts and ale, many of her ideas were not raised or discussed in the earlier Chapters. It is therefore apt to refer to her work here in the context of a discussion of ritual activity, belief systems, magic, barley and the Neolithic. She writes of a rapidly growing interest in the importance of “women as innovators in many fields at a time when small nomadic communities were extending their activities from hunting and gathering to herding and agriculture” (Davidson 1998:8). Women in prehistoric times were largely responsible for the sowing of seed, for the raising of crops, for the processing of grain and for the preparation of a variety of foodstuffs in early agricultural communities. Women also grew and gathered the herbs required for healing and the treatment of injuries, as well as being skilled in midwifery and in the nurturing of children (ibid:154). She concludes that women were the mainstay of the domestic environment, caring for house, home and all within it.

These are very similar ideas to those of Ian Hodder (1990) who has proposed the ‘domus’ and ‘agrios’ theories of social development in Neolithic Europe. Hilda Ellis Davidson’s emphasis is on female influence and female power in prehistory. Her book concentrates upon the many and varied “special skills and mysteries of women” one of which was the cultivation and specialised processing of the grain into ale (Davidson 1998:138). Her work is an invaluable study and it should be read by any archaeologist who wishes to better understand the role of the female in prehistory, as well as the ancient belief systems and rituals of the past. It provides an insight into many aspects of domestic, spiritual and ritual life in prehistory.

Early Neolithic communities in the Levant and the Near East would have learned the necessary methods and techniques of grain processing through repeated trial and error. This knowledge then spread through the complex and far-reaching trade and exchange networks that made use of land, sea and river routes into Europe. The practice of and the ideas behind grain cultivation and processing spread rapidly into northern Europe. The similarities in lifestyles and material culture of the inhabitants of the Bulgarian settlement tells of the 6th/5th millennia BC and those of 6th millennium BC in Anatolia have been noted in Chapter Four of this thesis. Many more archaeological examples could have been selected for a similar comparison. For example, Whittle (1996) describes the Vinca culture of the 6th and 5th millennia BC and the elaborate and complex late Neolithic buildings of the Hungarian plain. These were cultures that also possessed the basic requirements for making malt and brewing ale.

The coastal groups and communities of northern Europe maintained a hunting, gathering and fishing lifestyle for almost a millennium longer than the agricultural communities in Central Europe, who lived in settlements along the river valleys. However, there is some evidence of organic residues on Ertebolle pottery vessels that have been interpreted as being the remnants of fermented grain and blood (Tilley 1996:25). This suggests the probable trade and exchange of grain between agricultural and non-agricultural communities of the 5th and 4th Millennia BC. It also suggests interesting and as yet unknown ritual behaviour in both the manufacture and in the consumption of this alcoholic drink. Eventually, the Northern European Mesolithic groups began to cultivate their own grain, some time in the early 3rd millennium BC.

Many different theories have been put forward concerning the reason for the acceptance of grain cultivation within these groups and some of these have been discussed in Chapter Four. It seems likely that Mesolithic groups were interested in the products of the grain, that is the sweet malts and the ale, rather than a change of lifestyle to that of farming.

‘Farming’ is a cultural concept and use of the word creates an image of an organised and regulated farmstead as we are accustomed to seeing today or in historical times. Farming is a way of life that has evolved and developed over the years as a result of people’s desire to grow and to process grain and other crops and to keep domesticated animals. To refer to these early cultivators and processors of grain as ‘farmers’ does not really seem to be appropriate.

One of the most striking aspects of the European and British Neolithic was the construction of huge communal monuments, standing stones and finely constructed tombs. Ritual behaviour and activity is one of the most discussed and well known aspects of the Neolithic. The people who made and used Grooved Ware during the 4th and 3rd millennia BC were the earliest grain cultivators and processors in Britain. They continued to exploit the natural resources of the seas, the rivers and the woodland whilst they began to cultivate grain and to manufacture malts and ale, as argued in Chapters Five and Six of this thesis. They also constructed impressive and lasting monuments, such as the two stone circles on Orkney, numerous timber and stone circles throughout the mainland, elaborate tombs and burial chambers as well as standing stones, cursus monuments and henges. My research indicates that there was a powerful female element to this culture that was closely related to ritual activities and to the cultivation and processing of barley.

Organic residues containing potentially dangerous psychoactive substances, such as the crushed Henbane seeds that were discovered on Grooved Ware sherds at Balfarg (Barclay et al 1983), indicate that mind-altering alcoholic brews were sometimes made for ritual occasions. It is impossible to know whether the purpose of this brew was for shamanic and magical practices or as a poisonous drink for use in a ritual funerary context. Its potential use as an ‘external medicine’ as noted by Thomas Culpepper, perhaps for toothache, cannot be ignored.

This research, which began as being a relatively straightforward examination of the likely brewing methods of British Bronze Age people has revealed many fascinating and previously unconsidered aspects of Neolithic life. There is much further work to be done in this area. The role of women in the Neolithic needs to be re-evaluated, for example, what was their role in healing, medicine and in ritual activity and what was their knowledge and use of herbs? Archaeobotanical study and analysis can be very useful in answering these questions. A serious plea has to be made to all archaeologists to retain and to analyse the organic residues on pottery sherds rather than destroy such important evidence by routinely scrubbing the pottery.

One aspect of the Neolithic that has been unexpectedly illuminated by this research is the importance of malt in prehistory. Although the manufacture and the consumption of ale and of other alcoholic drinks is seen as being important ritually, socially and economically, the manufacture of the malt may be just as, if not more, important. Mixed with milk or eaten as a product in its own right, malt would have been a nutritious addition to Neolithic diet and appealed to young and old alike. In the public demonstrations and tastings of the barley mash that I have undertaken as part of this research the overwhelming response has been positive. People have expressed a liking for the sweet mash and return for a second tasting.

References 

Barclay, G. et al 1983 Sites of the 3rd Millennium BC to the 1st Millennium AD at North Mains, Strathallan, Perthshire Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Volume 113, 122-282.
Burgess, C. & Shennan, S. 1976 'The Beaker Phenomenon: some suggestions' in Burgess, C. & Miket, R. (eds) Settlement and Economy in the 3rd Millennium BC. British Archaeological Reports 33, 309-327.

Davidson, H. 1998 Roles of the Northern Goddess Routledge.
Dickson, J. 1978 Bronze Age Mead Antiquity 52, 108-11.

Hodder, I. 1990 The Domestication of Europe. Blackwell.
Hodder, I. 1997 'Always momentary, fluid Conference publication from the Neolithic Studies Group meeting and flexible: towards a reflexive excavation methodology.' Antiquity 71, 691-700. 

Sherratt, A. 1995 Alcohol and its alternatives: symbol and substance in pre-industrial cultures in Goodman and Graham Consuming habits: Drugs in History and Anthropology. Routledge.

Tilley, C. 1996  An Ethnography of the Neolithic: early prehistoric societies in southern Scandinavia. Cambridge University Press. 

Whittle, A. 1996 'Houses in Context: Buildings as process.' in Darvill, T. & Thomas J. (eds) Neolithic Houses in north west Europe and Beyond. Oxbow Monographs 57, 13-27.
Publication from the Neolithic Studies Group conference of the same name.


Thursday, 20 August 2020

pieces from my thesis #1: the introduction


The previous couple of blogs, the land of milk and honey and the origin of grain agriculture: some thoughts, were written by the brewer with me doing the editing. I must admit that I couldn't resist adding a little bit of archaeological detail here and there. His theme was the origin of grain agriculture in the ancient Near East and Levant in the epi Palaeolithic over twenty thousand years ago. How did these hunter gatherers of the Fertile Crescent learn how to make malt? What happened?

The idea that they were eating the green and unripe grain first and that they gradually learned how to process the ripe grains into malt and malt sugars is his idea. Not mine. It's a new aspect to our investigation of how the art and craft of making malt and ale from the grain began.

I submitted my M.Phil thesis "Barley, Malt and Ale in the Neolithic" to the University of Manchester in 1999. It was published in 2004, by invitation, as a BAR (British Archaeological Report S1213) and is now out of print. I've heard that the BAR publishing people are in the process of reprinting some of the old ones, mine included. I look forward to that. 

We stand on the shoulders of giants. Here's some of the inspiration for my research: the Braidwood "Bread/Beer debate in the 1950s and his team's extensive excavations in the hilly flanks of the Zagros mountains. Also, the excellent paper on 'Bread and Beer: the early use of cereals in the human diet' by Katz and Voigt (1986) and an article published in Archaeology in 1991 by Katz and Maytag "Brewing an Ancient Beer". Delwen Samuel's recreation of an ancient Egyptian beer made the news in 1996 and this was another reason why I began investigating the topic of ancient beer brewing techniques. 

I particularly like John Tyndall's investigations and remarks on fermentation and the brewing process. His work continued the research of Louis Pasteur. The explanations of the biochemistry of the malting and brewing processes by Dave Line were invaluable.

Sometimes people tell me that I should write a book. I already have. I've also been told that many people only read the introduction and the conclusion of academic publications. So here, for your interest and enjoyment, is something I wrote earlier:

INTRODUCTION

“Our prehistoric fathers may have been savages, but they were clever and observant ones ... the art and practice of the brewer are founded on empirical observation ... the brewer learnt from long experience the conditions not the reasons for success”
John Tyndall, extracts from his speech on Fermentation  Glasgow Science Lectures Association
October 19th 1876

Grain in prehistoric diet

The preparation and consumption of food and drink are important aspects of prehistory that can provide a valuable insight into the daily lives of people in past societies. The introduction of the cultivation of grain in the Near East and the spread of the agricultural lifestyle across Europe and into the British Isles was a great change in the lives and habits of Mesolithic people. It is one of the most important changes to have occurred in prehistory. After millennia of subsistence activities based on hunting, gathering and fishing people began to cultivate and therefore to have control over a variety of crops, including wheat and barley. They also began to domesticate animals. Much has been written of this so-called “Neolithic Revolution”, that is, the period of change from gathering, hunting and fishing to that of farming and herding. It was a change of lifestyle that occurred at different times in different parts of the world, but what was it that made people choose to cultivate wheat and barley, in particular?

          Cereal grains are a major source of carbohydrate in the human diet, being useful for making porridge, bread and flour. They are also unique as a potential source of malt and malt sugars that can be fermented into beer or ale. With a minimum of simple equipment, such as containers, water and heat, it is possible to trick the barley into digesting itself into sugars. This aspect of grain processing has been overlooked in much of the archaeological literature relating to the transition from Mesolithic to Neolithic.
 
           Brewing in the 21st century has become a global, multi-million pound technological business, with large breweries producing billions of gallons of beer annually. Many of these large breweries whose names are so familiar today such as Bass, Worthington, Younger and Guinness have only been in existence since the middle of the 18th Century. Prior to this quite recent industrialisation malt, beer and ale were manufactured either domestically or locally on a small scale.

The techniques of brewing small amounts of beer from malted grain have become largely neglected and the skill of domestic brewing is no longer a part of most peoples’ daily experience. This thesis, based upon the biochemistry of malting and brewing and upon small-scale domestic brewing methods (Line 1980) proposes that Mesolithic cultures were interested in making particular products from the grain, that is, sweet malts and ale and that this was a major factor in the decision to selectively cultivate grain. 

The ‘bread or beer’ debate
             Robert Braidwood of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (1953) first posed the question ‘Did man once live by beer alone?’ and this debate still continues today. Solomon Katz (1986, 1991) has coined the phrase ‘biocultural evolution’ and he argues for the importance of the transference of specialised food processing techniques to subsequent generations. Certain processing activities, such as brewing, become enshrined in ritual. Brian Hayden (1996) agrees with Katz and Voigt that grain was first domesticated to produce ale for consumption at feasts and at other special occasions. However, he notes the difficulty of finding direct archaeological evidence for early farming techniques and such grain processing activity as brewing (Hayden 1990). 

Most recently Alexander Joffe (1998:297) has proposed “the production, exchange and consumption of alcoholic beverages form a significant element and regularity in the emergence of complex, hierarchically organised societies, along with the restructuring of labour and gender relations.” Although these arguments are in the context of early Neolithic cultures in the Near East, the Levant and Egypt, they are equally as relevant to grain cultivation and processing across Europe and in the British Isles during the Neolithic.

Brewing in history and prehistory
           Both the manufacture and the consumption of a wide range of alcoholic beverages are understood to have been important aspects of social, economic, religious and ritual life in Iron Age Europe (Dietler 1989), in Viking cultures and in early medieval Europe (Woolf & Eldridge 1994, Davidson 1998). Drinking horns and a huge bronze cauldron that contained the remnants of mead was found in a rich ‘princely’ grave at Hochdorf, Germany, dated to the 1st millennium BC (Biel 1996). A large quantity of carbonised malt, accidentally burnt as it was being kilned, was found at Eberdingen-Hochdorf (Stika 1996). Malt is the primary ingredient for beer or ale.
 
The earliest written references to ale being made in the British Isles can be found in the Vindolanda tablets, dated to the early 1st millennium AD. Roman soldiers recorded their purchases of barley ale made by the local tribes. Pliny refers to the Gallic tribes of Northern Europe making “intoxicating drinks from corn steeped in water...that are capable of being kept until they have attained a considerable age” (Pliny XIV Ch 29). There are also many references to the manufacture and consumption of ale and mead in the myths, legends and skaldic verse of the Viking Age in northern Europe. 

 Ale and mead were consumed on many occasions, for example at religious feasts and festivals, at funerals, in drinking competitions and before the men departed to sea in the spring (Gayre 1948:45, Davidson 1988:11,12). Women were usually responsible for the manufacture of alcoholic drinks in the societies cited above and there were close associations between the consumption of ale and the worship of deities (Dietler 1996, Joffe 1998, Davidson 1988). Ale is manufactured from malt, with herbs added for flavour and preservation. Mead is fermented honey and water with similar flavourings and preservatives as those used in the brewing of ale, such as Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). Honey was frequently added to the malt and so it is difficult to be clear as to the precise nature of the ‘ale’ and ‘mead’ referred to in ancient texts, myths and legends.
 
           There is convincing evidence for the manufacture of both ale and mead during the Bronze Age in Europe and in the British Isles. Organic residues within a beaker accompanying a female burial in a stone-lined cist at North Mains, Strathallan, Fife, were analysed and found to consist of cereal residues and Meadowsweet pollen. They were dated to c1540 BC (Barclay et al 1983). The excavators interpreted this as being the probable remains of a fermented cereal-based drink. At Ashgrove, Fife, Scotland, a beaker containing significant quantities of Lime Flower (Tilia cordata) and Meadowsweet pollen was discovered, again in a stone-lined cist accompanying a burial (Dickson 1978). The contents of the beaker were probably mead rather than ale. Vessels made of birch bark have been found at Egtved and at other Danish bog burial sites. Analysis of the contents indicates the “debris of wheat grains, leaves of bog myrtle (Myrica gale) and fruits of cranberry” (Dickson 1978:111). Bog myrtle was an additive used regularly as a preservative in the manufacture of ale prior to the introduction of hops in the late Middle Ages (Vencl 1994, Bennett 1996).

Neolithic Britain

         In recent years organic residues that might indicate the manufacture of alcoholic drinks have been found on Neolithic pottery assemblages at ritual and domestic sites within the British Isles. Residues on sherds of Grimston-Lyles pottery and Grooved Ware from pits at Machrie Moor, Arran, were analysed and found to contain cereal pollen together with macro plant remains. These were interpreted as the probable remains of a mead-type drink (Haggerty 1991:91). 

Cereal based residues were found on sherds of large Grooved Ware vessels that had been buried in pits situated close by a rectangular timber structure at a Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial site at Balfarg/Balbirnie, Tayside. Pollen from plants including Meadowsweet, Henbane, Deadly Nightshade, Cabbage and Mustards were noted in these residues, an interesting mixture of additives perhaps indicating some kind of fermented mead/ale type brew with special properties (Moffatt in Barclay et al 1993). At the Neolithic village at Barnhouse, Orkney, barley residues have been identified on some of the Grooved Ware vessels (Jones 2000). Scientific analysis, specifically Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry, has indicated the presence of ‘unidentified sugars’ within the fabric of some of these vessels. These sugars might be maltose. 

Thousands of charred cereal grains were found at the site of a large timber hall at Balbridie, Kincardine, dated to the early 4th millennium BC (Fairweather & Ralston 1993). Charred grain was also found at the site of a rectangular timber building at Lismore Fields, Buxton (Garton 1987). These finds and the cereal based residues described above are an indication of grain processing, perhaps for the manufacture of malts and ale, during the early Neolithic in the British Isles. 

          The possibility that grain processing activities during the early Neolithic of the British Isles included malting, mashing and fermentation should be considered and further investigated. Ian Hodder (1997:695) has argued for a destabilisation of ‘taken-for-granted’ assumptions in the interpretation of archaeological data and for the need to look at material culture assemblages as a complete whole. This multidisciplinary research and the subsequent interpretation of Neolithic grain processing techniques take this approach.

         Brewing is “one of the oldest biotechnological processes of all” (Kretschmer 1996) requiring skill as well as specialised knowledge. Each stage of the process requires very specific and different conditions. In prehistory, the transformation of grain into malts and ale was very likely to have been an important social, symbolic and economic activity, as well as being a specialised and skilled craft that was passed on from one generation to the next. Malting, mashing and brewing have a great potential for apprenticeships, for the creation of social hierarchies and status and for the possession of secret or specialised knowledge. These grain processing activities may also have been extremely significant in terms of both ritual and social behaviour.
 
Andrew Sherratt has investigated and discussed the possibilities that drugs, such as cannabis and opium poppy seeds, were consumed in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, perhaps as ritual or specialist activities (Sherratt 1991, 1995, 1996). Ale is also an intoxicant and a great deal of evidence exists for its manufacture and consumption during the Neolithic. There is also some tentative evidence for the ale to have been enhanced, at times, with psychoactive drugs such as Henbane and Deadly Nightshade although there is some contention and debate surrounding this issue (Long et al 1999). Whether or not alcoholic brews were enhanced with such additives is difficult to prove. 

Malting and brewing in prehistory

In order to recognise the extant archaeological evidence for malting, mashing and fermentation it is helpful to understand the basics of the biochemistry as well as the methods and techniques of grain processing for malt sugars and ale. Chapter One examines the specific craft skills of the maltster and the brewer. Chapter Two examines some of the traditional and ancient use of herbal additives that preserve, flavour or strengthen the ale. The archaeological evidence for malting, mashing and brewing activity in the Levant, in the Near East and in Egypt is assessed in Chapter Three. Chapter Four assesses this evidence with respect to the European early Neolithic and Chapter Five examines the stone buildings of Neolithic Orkney in terms of grain storage and processing activities. Chapter Six investigates whether the Grooved Ware Culture of mainland Britain had a suitable material culture to make malt and ale from the barley grain that they grew. 

         Research for this thesis initially began with the Bronze Age of the British Isles. The original intention was to investigate the manufacturing techniques of Bronze Age brewers. However, barley has been cultivated in Britain since the early 4th millennium BC (Ashmore 1996). The focus of research soon turned to the Neolithic of the British Isles. In order to place British Neolithic grain cultivation and processing techniques into context it was necessary to look at the earliest development of cereal cultivation in the Near East, the Levant and Europe. The remit of this thesis has changed considerably as it has developed.

         The Neolithic extends from the 9th/8th millennia BC in the Levant and Near East to the 4th/3rd millennia BC in the British Isles. This thesis covers a wide geographical area and an extensive timescale. It has not been possible to investigate every area in detail. Therefore selective sites have been chosen for analysis. This is an initial investigation into the possibilities for malting, mashing and brewing during the Neolithic. 

References:
Ashmore, P. 1996 Neolithic and Bronze Age Scotland Historic Scotland, Batsford

Barclay, G. et al 1983 Sites of the 3rd Millennium BC to the 1st Millennium AD at North Mains, Strathallan, Perthshire Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Volume 113, 122-282
Bennett, J. 1996 Ale Beer and Brewsters in England: Womens's work in a changing world, 1300. Oxford University Press
Biel, von J. 1996 Experiment Hochdorf:Keltische Hanwerkskunst Wiederbeleb herausgegeben. Wais & Partner. Stuttgart
Braidwood, R. 1953 Did man once live by bread alone? American Anthropologist 55, 515-526

Davidson, H. 1998 Roles of the Northern Goddess. Routledge
Dickson, J. 1978 Bronze Age Mead Antiquity 52, 108-112
Dietler, M. 1989 Driven by Drink: the role of drinking in the political economy and the case of early Iron Age France Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 9, 352-406

Fairweather, A. & Ralston, I. 1993 The Neolithic timber hall at Balbridie, Grampion region, Scotland: a preliminary note on dating and macrofossils Antiquity 67 313-323

Garton, D. Buxton Current Archaeology 9.8 No 103
Gayre, G. 1948 Wassail! in Mazers of Mead Philimore and Co Ltd

Haggerty, A. 1991 Machrie Moor, Arran: recent excavations of two stone circles. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries Volume 121, 51-94.
Hayden, B. 1990 Nimrods, Piscators, Pluckers and Planters: The Emergence of Food Production. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 9, 31-69
Hayden, B. 1996 Feasting in prehistoric and traditional societies. In Weissner, P. and Schiefenhovel, W. (eds) Food and the status quest: an interdiscpliary perspective. Berghan Books.
Hodder 1997 Always momentary, fluid and flexible: towards a reflexive excavation methology. Antiquity 71,691-700

Joffe, A. 1998 Alcohol and Social Complexity in Ancient Western Asia. Current Anthropology Volume 9 No 3, 297-322
Jones, A. 2002 Archaeological Theory and Scientific Practice Cambridge University Press
(information was initially obtained from his unpublished PhD thesis 1997. It was later published here.) 

Katz, S. and Maytag, F.  1991 Brewing an Ancient Beer Archaeology Volume 44 No 4, 24-33
Katz and Voigt 1986 Bread and Beer: the early use of cereals in the human diet Expedition Volume 25/2 23-34
Kretshmer, von H 1996 Brauen fruher und heute. In Biel 1996

Line, D. 1985 The Big Book of Brewing (14th edition) Argus Books, GW Kent Inc USA
Long et al 1999 Black Henbane in the Scottish Neolithic: a re-evaluation of palynological findings from Grooved Ware pottery at Balfarg Riding School and Henge, Fife. Journal of Archaeological Science Vol 26, 45-52
(published after my thesis completed but reference included in the 2004 BAR.)

Sherratt, A. 1991 Sacred and Profane Substances: the ritual use of narcotics in later neolithic Europe in Garwood et al Sacred and Profane, Proceedings of a conference on Archaeology, Ritual and Religion Oxford University Committee for Archaeology Monograph No 32, 51-64
Sherratt, A. 1995 Alcohol and its alternatives: symbol and substance in pre-industrial cultures in Goodman and Graham Consuming habits: Drugs in History and Anthropology. Routledge.
Sherratt, A. Flying up with the souls of the dead British Archaeology June, No 15, p14
Stike, H-P 1996 Traces of a possible Celtic brewery in Eberdingen-Hochdorf, Kreis Ludwigsburg, SW Germany. Vegetation History and Archaeobotany Volume 5, No 1-2, 57 -65

Vencl, S. 1994 The Archaeology of Thirst. Journal of European Archaeology 2.2, 299-326
 


Saturday, 15 August 2020

origins of grain agriculture: some thoughts from a brewer

This is written by Graham Dineley, an all grain brewer for almost 40 years now. All ideas, opinions and mistakes are my own.

The widely accepted view of the first grain farmers of the Fertile Crescent is that they grew the grain to grind into flour to make bread. Grain was a staple crop that would see them through famine and hard times. Being a brewer I have a different perspective on grain. When I look at a field of grain I see the potential for malting and brewing beer. When non brewers look at a field of grain they just see flour and bread.

The homeland of the grains such as wheat, einkorn, barley etc. is Anatolia and the Levant. Deep in the last Ice Age, when Britain and northern Europe was under kilometres of a huge ice sheet, the people living in the Fertile Crescent were hunting, fishing and gathering wild seeds and plants. They lived in caves, for example, the Shanidar Cave.

Excavations by Ralph Solecki at Shanidar Cave, in the mountains of Kurdistan, revealed that it was inhabited for thousands of years from the Palaeolithic onwards. 
What were they doing with the grain? How did they discover malt? The earliest scientific evidence for malt in the Fertile Crescent dates to c13,000 years ago according to research by Professor Li Liu and her colleagues of Stanford University. Malting and making malt sugars from the grain is an ancient technology. 

Grain, when it is still green on the ear and not yet quite ripe is slightly sweet. Sweet enough to be attractive to eat. This is confirmed by our own bere crop. We have tasted the unripe green grain, it was sweet and grassy. Ripe grain is hard, difficult to chew and not sweet. If these people gathered the ripe grains and stored them, they may well have wetted them to soften them. This would start the germination and would again make them slightly sweet. They could easily have then dried these damp slightly sweetened grains in the sun for storage, if left undried the grain would spoil.

Now for the trick.

If they had started germinating them and there was period of heavy rain and no sun lasting for days, then I could imagine that they could take the grain into the cave and spread it out on the floor to dry. It would, of course, not dry but they may have continued turning the grains in an attempt to dry them, until the sun returned. This is essentially floor malting. It is the trick that is often overlooked by many archaeologists in the literature. Malt is usually described as sprouted grain, which it is not. In 2019 Merryn was invited to attend a workshop: Ancient Beer in Europe. It was organised by a number of archaeobotanists from around the world and an image of sprouted grain was used in the promotional material. See below. Merryn was unable to attend the meeting due to illness and so she was unable to present her paper on malt, malting and traditional techniques of making malt sugars. Her paper was read in her absence by one of the participants. She is in the process of writing it up.  

This image is of sprouted grain. It is not malt.


 This is brewers malt. Courtesy Wikimedia.
Any growth of the grain is from starch turned into sugars, which in turn is converted into cellulose. When grain has sprouted to the point of having green shoots, it has lost potential sugars. Malt is fully germinated grain with minimal growth. In all the literature that I have read, including that by maltsters, the turning and raking of the malt is to prevent the roots from tangling. I have seen unturned malt in the corners of a malting floor and it is indeed matted, with both roots and shoots, greenish in colour.

I think that the turning and raking of the malt confuses the geotropism of the shoots. The poor shoots are desperate to grow upwards, but never get chance to find out which way is up, so they don't grow. The grain continues to germinate for the next 3 to 5 days until complete conversion of the grain is achieved, normally with minimal sprouting. The shoots are less than the length of the grain.

Inside the grain alpha and beta amylase enzymes have been produced in the aleurone layer and just underneath there are erosion pits in the starchy endosperm. Merryn has some scanning electron microscope pictures which show this. They were taken for her research funding bids between 2000 and 2004. The grains were 6000 year old carbonised grain from the excavations of a large neolithic rectangular timber building at Balbridie, Scotland. There were thousands of grains and Professor Ian Ralston gave her six to examine. They were scarcely bigger than grape pips. More on this in a later blog.

The proteolytic enzymes that are also produced have degraded the protein matrix that binds the starch granules into a hard grain. Once properly converted and dried, gently, so as not to degrade the alpha and beta amylase enzymes, we have malt. This has completely different properties to unmalted grain. It is friable and easily crushed to release malt flour. No grinding is needed, just a flat stone and a pounder.

This turning and raking of the germinating grain is such a clever trick, like fire lighting, that once discovered it would never be forgotten. A perfect tool for manipulating the grain like this is a scapula. However, inhibiting sprouting fails at temperatures close to and above 20 degrees Centigrade in the malt bed. This is why traditional floor maltsters did not make malt when there is no R in the month name. An exception to this are the caves at Nottingham, England, which have a low constant temperature. Malt was made all year round in medieval times and earlier. A cave is an ideal place to make malt.

Interestingly a scapula was found in one of the large stone cisterns at the epi Palaeolithic site Gobekli Tepe. One was also found in the Bronze Age "food vessel" cist burial of a young woman at Achavanich, Scotland. The original interpretation of the residues in this beaker by Moffatt was one of a grain based beer, the earliest evidence for beer in Scotland. See our blogs on 'Beakers were for beer' parts one, two and three for more details. 

I think that sometime before 23,000 years ago the seed gatherers of the Fertile Crescent had cracked the trick of malting by turning the damp grain on the floors of caves with scapulas. They could then have made sweet malty biscuits. Merryn has done this on hot stones beside a fire. These "malt cakes" are sweet, tasty and attractive, far nicer than bread. She made some at a demonstration of "mashing in" techniques at the Eindhoven Open Air Archaeology Museum in 2009. They were quickly consumed by the visitors.

Demonstration: making sweet malty biscuits on hot stones beside the fire. Mashing in an earthenware bowl. It's easy to make fermentable malt sugars from crushed malt.
There is a site called Ohalo II on the shore of Lake Galilee where excavators found traces of starch granules on a large rock and fire blackened stones nearby. They interpreted this as bread making. As far as I know, they did not look for morphological changes in the starch granules consistent with malting like Professor Li Liu did at Raqefet cave.

Once the art of malting and making sweet biscuits on hot stones has been mastered, fermentation by serendipity only requires some sort of container and water. At Gobekli Tepe, an epi Palaeolithic site in Turkey, they found limestone cisterns cut from rock. When I first saw a photo of one of these cisterns in a journal article, it had a few rocks in the bottom. I emailed one of the excavators Jens Notroff and told him that I thought that this was a hot rock mash tun and they were making beer. I asked whether they had found any cisterns with small holes in or near the base. He replied that they had not, as yet.

I was wondering how these people could be lautering and sparging their mashes to obtain a wort. It was also a puzzle to me when we demonstrated a hot rock mash at the replica burnt mound trough on Bressay, Shetland. When I read Lars Marius Garshol's work and learned about kuurnas the problem was solved.

A kuurna, photo by M. Rasanen 1965, courtesy of Lars Marius Garshol

There is a burnt mound trough at Nant Farm, Porth Neigwl, Gwynedd, Wales, where they found piece of a sewn plank boat in the trough. This could be the remains of a kuurna. What better place to store one. A kuurna made from a log would leave no archaeological evidence, except when someone is buried in one and it is interpreted as a log coffin, as at the  Egtved burial.

By the time of Gobekli Tepe, people were gathering wild grains and processing them into malt and ale for their feasts. This was winter cereals, gathered in late spring and consumed in the summer.

Then came the Younger Dryas changing the climate to a cooler condition when these cereals would no longer grow in sufficient quantities for their purposes and cultivation of cereals began. Interestingly this was caused by the impact of  bolides in North America and Northern Europe. Professor Mike Baillie has proposed, over 20 years ago, an interesting theory that many climate changes have been caused by passing comets, bolide impacts and bolide air-bursts.

So the answer to the great 1953 "bread or beer" debate by Braidwood is neither. It was malt and malt sugars, as Merryn argues at the end of her Master's thesis. This was published as a BAR by invitation in 2004.


Further reading
These books have been very useful in our understanding of the science and practicalities of malt, malting and wort production. Rather expensive to buy but they should be available through inter library loan and are to be found in many University libraries.

Bewley, J.D. and Black,M. 1985 Seeds: Physiology of Development and Germination. Pub Plenum Press
Second Edition 1994 see in particular Chapter 8

Briggs, D. E. 1998 Malts and Malting. Pub Springer

Briggs, D.E., Stevens, R. and Young, T. W. 1981 Malting and Brewing Science Volume 1: Malt and sweet wort. Pub Institute of Brewing.

Stopes, H. 1885 Malt and Malting: An Historical, Scientific and Practical Treatise Pub Lyon
This has been scanned in by the University of Oxford library. It is available to read online here:


Sunday, 9 August 2020

The land of milk and honey

This Blog is written by Graham Dineley, and the opinions, ideas and mistakes are entirely my own.

The land flowing with milk and honey is a Biblical phrase used to describe a fertile land.

ארץ זבת חלב ודבש (éretz zavát ẖaláv udvásh)

As I understand this, it is better translated as "The land gushing with goats milk and 'debash'". Debash is not bee's honey but some sort of synthetic sweetness derived from something that grows. It seems to baffle the Biblical scholars. The origin of the word is lost. It is normally interpreted as being made from dates, figs, or even grape juice, for these are the only sources of sweetness that grows that these scholars know of.

Fertile Crescent. courtesy of wikimedia commons

It is easy to make the assumption that grain processing practises in the Fertile Crescent, the origins of grain agriculture, continue as they always have done. However to do so is to overlook the rise of the Moslem culture in this area. Alcohol production is prohibited under Moslem law. The current indigenous cereal drink, Boza, has a very low alcohol level, around 1%, at which level it is very difficult to get drunk. As a consequence the arts of malting and "mashing in" to make wort is no longer commonplace there.


I propose that "debash" is actually wort. Then that Biblical phrase makes more sense. It is a metaphor for a land fertile for both grazing animals and cereal crops. It tells me that the first farmers of the ancient near east were making malt. They kept caprovids (sheepy goaty things) and grew their cereals primarily to make into malt sugars. This would be about 10,000 years ago when most of Britain and Northern Europe were under ice sheets.

 
The absence of wort in this culture has more consequences than just baffling the scholars. It also baffles the archaeologists, for they know nothing of malting or "mashing in".

 
The two pioneering archaeobotanists who first researched cereal processing, Gordon Hillman and Jack Harlan, both did their field work in Moslem countries, so they never saw or experienced the production of malt, "mashing in" and wort production. This is why it has been overlooked by the archaeological comm
unity and is such a mystery to them.

 
As I have said in the oven mashing blog: when Merryn first started her research into prehistoric brewing, 25 years ago, she amassed all the scholarly literature she could find on the subject. At that point I had nearly 15 years experience of making beer from the grain. Sufficient successes and failures to have a good idea of what works and what does not.


I found the archaeological literature to be confused and confusing, often contradictory and sometimes downright wrong. It was useless. It had all been written by people who had never made a beer from the grain, and their sources were also from people who had never done it. Being scholarly meant that the scholars and archaeologists believed it, and they still do.


The only archaeologists that I know of, out of more than a handful, that have tried to make a prehistoric beer and succeeded are the Moore Group. They came to Orkney to see us in 2005, and to learn how to make beer. All the other attempters have said that they did not need our advice, for they already had a brewer. They mistook fermenting malt extract with brewing, and all their brews have failed, often spectacularly, because they believed the literature. They seem to think that brewing was somehow different in prehistory, and that it has been steadily refined into the modern product.

 
The Moore Group archaeologists tasted our wort and said "God, that's sweet. That is nice!". At all of our demonstrations no other archaeologists would ever taste the wort. 

Merryn gave her first paper about malt and ale in the Neolithic in 1998 at the Neolithic Studies Group annual meeting held at the Royal Society in London. We took samples of crushed malt, wort and ale. No one wanted to taste the wort or the ale. During her presentation there was some heckling from a red faced drunken archaeologist at the back. He kept shouting "But the pots aren't big enough!" The last speaker was allowed to run 15 minutes over time so that there was no time for questions. I think this is called filibustering. Here's a review of the papers presented at this meeting. It seems that this reviewer thought that only big breweries can make beer and that it's not possible to brew on a domestic scale as I do. Merryn did not say that Skara Brae was a brewery, only that they had the necessary material culture and facilities to make malt and ale. Merryn did not say that rectangular timber buildings were breweries, only that they were suitable as grain stores and malt barns. It seems to me that when Merryn said malt and ale, they heard brewing and can only imagine huge modern breweries.

At the Neolithic Fair at Skaill House, Orkney, in 1999 we had a table set up like a market stall, with samples of malt, wort and ale. When offered a taste the archaeologists all backed away and said "No thanks!" The fair was part of the Neolithic Orkney conference. We were not accepted to present a paper, however, we were allowed to contribute to chapter 16 of the McDonald Institute Monograph about the conference and the associated fair.

In 2009 we gave a demonstration of Viking style hot rock mashing at the ancient technology event organised by the Orkney Archaeology Society in Harray. Only two Orkney archaeologists turned up. They backed away, looking horrified, and said "No thanks, we've got to go now" when we offered them a taste of the sweet mash. Their loss. We also gave demonstrations of mashing at Skara Brae for Historic Scotland in the reconstructed Hut 7 for four years, between 2008 and 2012. We actually got paid for these. Tourists and visitors were fascinated by the aroma and the taste of the mash. Sadly no archaeologists ever came to see our demonstrations or wanted to talk to us about our work.

When Merryn studied to be an Orkney tour guide, part of the training was at Skara Brae. She was told that "some woman says that they were brewing beer at Skara Brae, but the College has pooh poohed it". We are treated as "nutters" and are made fun of by the Orkney College archaeologists, even though they were the first to hear of our work. At our last visit to the Ness of Brodgar excavations, 2019, Merryn was trying to talk to a professor and I saw some passing archaeologist performing a "monkey dance" behind her back. Again their loss.


So how, when and where did this malting and making sugars happen? This is discussed in the next blog.