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Friday Follies: Rise of Civilization Blamed on Beer

Beer Service

Present-day civilization has lots of wonderful stuff that we seldom think twice about. Like the cultivation of grain, for instance. Heck, it wasn’t until the last century that we could gather grains easily using farm machines! Until then, it all had to be gathered by hand, and that’s a time-consuming and back-breaking enterprise. There are still places where grains are harvested by hand; some of them, the cereal isn’t even planted by humans.

Well, if it’s so blinkin’ hard to cultivate and harvest cereal grains, then why did we ever do it in the first place? I’ll tell you: Beer.

A recent report tends to bolster a growing sense in the archaeological community that beer was pivotal to the founding of civilization. A key excerpt:

Their argument is that Stone Age farmers were domesticating cereals not so much to fill their stomachs but to lighten their heads, by turning the grains into beer. That has been their take for more than 50 years, and now one archaeologist says the evidence is getting stronger.

Signs that people went to great lengths to obtain grains despite the hard work needed to make them edible, plus the knowledge that feasts were important community-building gatherings, support the idea that cereal grains were being turned into beer, said archaeologist Brian Hayden at Simon Fraser University in Canada.

“Beer is sacred stuff in most traditional societies,” said Hayden, who is planning to submit research on the origins of beer to the journal Current Anthropology.

Beer? Sacred? You betcha! I can’t find anybody in my circle of friends who would disagree. And I canvassed all of the football-watching trio who were lounging in my front room last week them. Comments ranged from “but of course” to a watery, blank-eyed stare of obviousness. (Or maybe it was incipient intoxication; but I marked him down as agreeing.)

The article goes on to describe how all sorts of celebrations and feasts began to draw people together many millennia ago, usually at the beginning of a new season or at the end of, say, harvest. Religious practices, story-telling, and other socially important activities were shared, often with the sacred brew to hand. Yeah, that’s civilization all right. How important were these feasts? Consider the relatively modern analogs: The Last Supper, or the first Thanksgiving. (Neither of which had beer, if the histories are correct.) Beer is easier to make than wine or stronger imbibables, so it was likely the first of the socially lubricating solutions to be invented and consumed in quantity.

The value of grains apparently can’t be understated in ancient times. It’s recorded that people would travel up to 60 miles just to get some cereal for their beer-making. And back then, that was Some Trip. Nowadays, you just drive down to the local Stop-and-Rob and grab a case or six. A lot more convenient, now that we’re all civilized…

Enjoy the (Liquid Bread of Life) Heat!

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