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.


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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