It has long been speculated that increasing demands for cereals for the purposes of brewing beer led to domestication in the Near Eastern Natufian cultures. While the question of whether cereals were being used in beer production is an important issue, it has remained a difficult proposition to test. We present some new perspectives on traditional brewing techniques relevant to this issue, on archaeological remains, and on the paleoecology of the Near East. Taken together, these observations provide more compelling circumstantial evidence that makes it increasingly likely that brewing of beer was an important aspect of feasting and society in the Late Epipaleolithic.
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The mashed grain that is left over from the mashing process is enriched with proteins, fiber, ash, and lipids and is thus often used as a cheap feed for local animals (Hornsey 1999:41; Briggs et al. 2004:166). These grains also have the potential to be used for human consumption as well. One 1986 invention patent recognized the nutritional value of the spent grains, but noted that the husks, which can be sharp and difficult to chew, would need to be removed or rendered down to make the cereal acceptable for today’s market (Gannon 1986). Similar patents, such as Bavisotto (1965) and Chaudhary (1982), have also emphasized the potential nutritional and health benefits of cereal reuse. These claims are supported by scientific studies which address the advantages of proteins from brewing spent grains when they are added to other cereal based recipes (Mussatto et al. 2006; Stojcesk et al. 2008). These grains are not limited to barley and other typical western brewing cereals. Grains such as sorghum have also demonstrated nutritional potential and benefits (Adewusi and Ilori 1994). Additionally, the yeast produced in brewing, which is in itself rich with vitamins and proteins, is used in contemporary society to produce nutritional supplements (Moyad 2007:561; Wyrick 1944:3).
Kuijt and Finlayson (2009:10966) have interpreted the PPNA granaries at Dhra’ as “being used and owned communally.” However, given their subsequent observation that “many granaries would have been in use simultaneously,” their view of communally owned facilities must be questioned. Such multiple facilities would seem to make more sense as owned by individual corporate, or even household, groups. Ethnographically, it is our impression that communal storage by entire small communities is rare or absent, while there are good examples of corporately owned resources and storage. The obvious PPNA storage facilities at Jerf el Ahmar have also been viewed as communal facilities. However, if these ritual structures were actually the ritual centers of secret societies, as Hayden (2003) has suggested, the stored material would not have been communally owned, but owned by the secret society members, representing one of the first instances of the expropriation of surpluses from resident families by incipient elites. The numerous “small bins” of stone or clay at Jericho and Netiv Hagdud referred to by Kuijt and Finlayson may have been more normal storage facilities for individual households.
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We would like to thank the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for their support of Hayden’s research into traditional feasting, as well as George Willcox for his help and comments on earlier drafts. Dani Nadel, Steve Rosen, and a number of anonymous reviewers were generous with their insightful comments as well. Our gratitude goes to Saul Moran for assisting in the experiments and providing an experienced eye for the brewing process, as well as to Dan Small and Dan’s Homebrewing Supplies for their expertise and product support. Joe Hepburn reviewed the text, and David Gauthier, Kevin Gaetz and Mario Arruda generously contributed their masticating talents.
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Hayden, B., Canuel, N. & Shanse, J. What Was Brewing in the Natufian? An Archaeological Assessment of Brewing Technology in the Epipaleolithic. J Archaeol Method Theory 20, 102–150 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10816-011-9127-y