Skip to main content

The brewing function of the first amphorae in the Neolithic Yangshao culture, North China

Abstract

In recent years, functional study of Neolithic pottery found in the Yellow River valley has shown that globular jars of the pre-Yangshao period (ca. 7000–5000 cal. BC) and jiandiping amphorae of the middle and late Yangshao period (ca. 4000–2900 cal. BC) were alcohol fermentation vessels. However, there is a time gap of 1000 years (ca. 5000–4000 cal. BC) between these two sets of vessels, namely the Early Yangshao period when amphorae first appeared. In order to further our understanding of alcohol production in Neolithic China, we employed scientific methods to examine microfossil remains in the residues adhering to the interior walls of eleven among the earliest amphorae from the Banpo and Jiangzhai sites in Shaanxi province. Multiple lines of evidence—taken from starch granules, phytoliths, molds, yeast cells, and rod-shaped calcite crystals found in the residues—indicate that these amphorae were used for brewing alcoholic beverages. The ingredients mainly include broomcorn millet, together with other cereals (foxtail millet, rice and Triticeae), wild peas and tubers (snake gourd roots and foxnut). Two brewing methods have been detected: use of sprouted grain and use of qu starter made of moldy grain with herbs. Siphoning through reed straws may have been one of the drinking methods. The results of this research open a new window not only for understanding the long tradition of alcohol production in prehistoric China, but also for investigating alcohol-related social activities of the Yangshao people.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6
Fig. 7
Fig. 8

References

  • Arthur JW (2002) Pottery use-alteration as an Indicator of socioeconomic status: an ethnoarchaeological study of the Gamo of Ethiopia. J Archaeol Method Theory 9:331–355

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bajnoczi B, Kovacs-Kis V (2006) Origin of pedogenic needle-fiber calcite revealed by micromorphology and stable isotope composition—a case study of a quaternary paleosol from Hungary. Chem Erde 66:203–212

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bao Q (2005) Zhongguo jiu de qiyuan, shang (origins of Chinese alcohol, part a). China Brewing 2:56–59

    Google Scholar 

  • Boulton C, Quain D (2001) Brewing yeast and fermentation. Blackwell Science Ltd, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  • Briggs DE, Boulton CA, Brookes PA, Stevens R (2004) Brewing science and practice. CRC Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Delente J, Akin C, Krabbe E, Lanenburg K (1969) Fluid dynamics of anaerobic fermentation. Biotechnology and bioengineering XI:631–646

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Duncan NA, Starbuck J, Liu L (2019) A method to identify cross-shaped phytoliths of job’s tears, Coix lacryma-jobi L., in Northern China. J Archaeol Sci Rep 24:16–23

    Google Scholar 

  • Gallone B, Steensels J, Prahl T, Soriaga L, Saels V, Herrera-Malaver B, Merlevede A, Roncoroni M, Voordeckers K, Miraglia L, Teiling C, Steffy B, Taylor M, Schwartz A, Richardson T, White C, Baele G, Maere S, Verstrepen KJ (2016) Domestication and divergence of Saccharomyces cerevisiae beer yeasts. Cell 166:1397–1410

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gong Q (2002) Yangshao Wenhua (the Yangshao culture). Wenwu Press, Beijing

    Google Scholar 

  • Han M (2015) Yangshao xiaokou jiandiping de gongneng muoni yu tanshi (assimilation and investigation of the function of Yangshao amphorea). Shehui Kexue Zhanxian 12:107–113

    Google Scholar 

  • Henry AG, Hudson HF, Piperno DR (2009) Changes in starch grain morphologies from cooking. J Archaeol Sci 36:915–922

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hornsey IS (2003) A history of beer and brewing. The Royal Society of Chemestry, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Huang HT (2000) Science and civilisation in China: vol 6, biology and biological technology, part V: fermentations and food science. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Institute of Archaeology CAoS (1963) Xi’an Banpo (Banpo in Xi'an). Cultural Relics Press, Beijing

    Google Scholar 

  • Jin G, Zhu Y, Xu Y (2017) Mystery behind Chinese liquor fermentation. Trends Food Sci Technol 63:18–28

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lamb J, Loy T (2005) Seeing red: the use of Congo red dye to identify cooked and damaged starch grains in archaeological residues. J Archaeol Sci 32:1433–1440

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Li Y (1962) Dui woguo niangjiu qiyuan de tantao (investigating the origins of brewing in China). Kaogu 1:41–44

    Google Scholar 

  • Ling C (1958) Zhongguo jiu zhi qiyuan (Th origins of alcohol in China). Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology 29:883–901

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu L (2017) Zaoqi taoqi, zhuzhou, niangjiu yu shehui fuzahua de fazhan (early pottery, porridge, and development of social complexity). Zhongyuan Wenwu 2:24–34

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu L, Chen X (2012) The archaeology of China: from the Late Palaeolithic to the Early Bronze Age. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Liu L, Li Y, Hou J (2020) Making beer with malted cereals and qu starter in the Neolithic Yangshao culture, China. J Archaeol Sci Rep 29:102134

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu L, Ma S, Cui J (2014) Identification of starch granules using a two-step identification method. J Archaeol Sci 52:421–427

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liu L, Wang J, Chen X, Li Y, Zhao H (2018a) Yangshao wenhua dafangzi yu yanyin chuantong: Henan Yanshi Huizui yizhi F1 dimian he taoqi canliuwu fenxi (large houses and feasting tradition of the Yangshao culture: starch and phytolith analyses of the residues from pottery vessels and floors of house no.1 at Huizui in Yanshi, Henan). Zhongyuan Wenwu 1:32–43

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu L, Wang J, Levin MJ, Sinnott-Armstrong N, Zhao H, Zhao Y, Shao J, Di N, Te Z (2019) The origins of specialized pottery and diverse alcohol fermentation techniques in Early Neolithic China. Proc Natl Acad Sci 116:12767–12774

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liu L, Wang J, Zhao H, Shao J, Di N, Feng S (2018b) Shaanxi Lantian Xinjie yizhi Yangshao wenhua wanqi taoqi canliuwu fenxi: niangzao guyajiu de xinzhengju (residue analyses on pottery from the late Yangshao culture site of Xinjie in Lantian, Shaanxi: new evidence of beer brewing). Nongye Kaogu 1:7–15

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu L, Wang J, Zhao Y, Yang L (2017) Yangshao wenhua de guyajiu: jiemi Yangguanzhai yizhi de taoqi gongneng (beer in the Yangshao culture: decoding the function of pottery at the Yangguanzhai site). Nongye Kaogu 6:26–32

    Google Scholar 

  • Liu R-s, An J-y, Dong W-y, Wang Y (2016) Analysis of temperature and convection flow in cylindroconical fermenters with different geometries by computational fluid dynamics. Food and Fermentation Industies 42:52–57

  • Lu H, Zhang J, Wu N, Liu K-b XD, Li Q (2009) Phytolith analysis for the discrimination of foxtail millet (Setaria italica) and common millet (Panicum miliaceum). PLoS One 4:e4448

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Madella M, Alexandre A, Ball T (2005) International code for phytolith nomenclature 1.0. Ann Bot 96:253–260

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Madella M, Lancelotti C, García-Granero JJ (2016) Millet microremains—an alternative approach to understand cultivation and use of critical crops in prehistory. Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 8(1):17–28

  • McGovern PE, Zhang J, Tang J, Zhang Z, Hall G, Moreau R, Nunez A, Butrym E, Richards M, Wang C-s, Cheng G, Zhao Z (2004) Fermented beverages of pre- and proto-historic China. Proc Natl Acad Sci 101:17593–17598

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McGovern PE (2009) Uncorking the past: the quest for wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles

    Google Scholar 

  • Northwest Institute of Botany CAS (ed) (1981) Qinling Zhiwuzhi (Flora of Qinling Mountains ) Vol. 1.3. Kexue Press, Beijing

  • Piperno DR (2006) Phytoliths: a comprehensive guide for archaeologists and Paeoecologists. Altamira Press, Lanham

    Google Scholar 

  • Samuel D (1996) Archaeology of ancient Egyptian beer. J Am Soc Brew Chem 54:3–11

    Google Scholar 

  • St-Germain G, Summerbell R (2011) Identifying fungi: a clinical laboratory Handbood. Star Publishing Company, Belmont, CA

    Google Scholar 

  • Sun X, Zhao J (1988) Banpo leixing jiandiping shice (testing Banpo type amphorea). Wenbo 1:18–24

    Google Scholar 

  • Verrecchia E (1994) Needle-fiber calcite: a critical review and a proposed classification. J Sediment Res 64A:650–664

    Google Scholar 

  • Wang J, Liu L, Ball T, Yu L, Li Y, Xing F (2016) Revealing a 5,000-y-old beer recipe in China. Proc Natl Acad Sci 113:6444–6448

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wang J, Liu L, Georgescu A, Le VV, Ota MH, Tang S, Vanderbilt M (2017) Identifying ancient beer brewing through starch analysis: a methodology. J Archaeol Sci Rep 15:150–160

    Google Scholar 

  • Wang X (2004) Guanyu jiandiping liuxing bange shiji de cuowu renshi (a half-century long misinterpretation about amphorea). Shehui Kexue Pinglun 4:5–10

    Google Scholar 

  • Wayessa BS, Lyons D, Kooyman B (2015) Ethnoarchaeological study of brewing technology in Wallaga Region of Western Oromia, Ethiopia. Journal of African Archaeology 13:99–114

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Webster J, Weber R (2007) Introduction to fungi. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Wei J (1979) Zhenjun Jianding Shouce (handbook of identification of fungi). Shanghai Science and Technology Press, Shanghai

    Google Scholar 

  • Wei X, Qian Y (2019) Tao jiandiping de gongneng jiegou fenxi (analysis of the function and structure of ceramic amphorae). Kaogu 11

  • Weisskopf AR, Lee G-A (2014) Phytolith identification criteria for foxtail and broomcorn millets: a new approach to calculating crop ratios. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 8:29–42

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wu ZY, Raven PH (eds) (2001) Flora of China. Vol. 6 (Caryophyllaceae through Lardizabalaceae). Science Press and Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Beijing and St. Louis

    Google Scholar 

  • Wu ZY, Raven PH, Hong DY (eds) (2006) Flora of China. Vol. 22 (Poaceae). Science Press and Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Beijing and St. Louis

    Google Scholar 

  • Wu ZY, Raven PH, Hong DY (eds) (2011) Flora of China. Vol. 19 (Cucurbitaceae through Valerianaceae, with Annonaceae and Berberidaceae). Science Press and Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Beijing and St. Louis

    Google Scholar 

  • Xi'an Banpo Museum, Shaanxi Institute of Archaeology, Lintong County Museum (1988) Jiangzhai -- Xinshiqi Shidai Yizhi Fajue Baogao. Wenwu Press, Beijing

    Google Scholar 

  • Yan W (1989) Yangshao Wenhua Yanjiu (study of the Yangshao culture). Wenwu Press, Beijing

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhao Z (2017) The development of agriculture in the time of Yangshao culture and the establishment of agricultural society: an analysis on the flotation result of Yuhuazhai site. Jianghan Kaogu 6:98–108

    Google Scholar 

  • Zheng X-W, Tabrizi MR, Nout MJR, Han B-Z (2011) Daqu – a traditional Chinese liquor fermentation starter. J Inst Brew 117:82–90

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zhou Y, Miao R (1986) Dui Xi’an Banpo yizhi xiaokou jiandiping de kaocha (examining the amphorea from the Banpo site in Xi’an). Zhongguo Kejishi 7:48–50,28

    Google Scholar 

  • Zhu S (1406) Jiuhuang Bencao (herbal for relief of famines). Siku Quanshu Di 730 Ce (Complete Library of the Four Treasuries, vol.730). Shangwu Press, Taipei

Download references

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the following individuals and institutions: Dr. Zhouyong Sun encouraged the collaborative project; the leadership and members of Xi’an Banpo Museum facilitated and assisted the project; Ms. Suofei Feng helped with the residue sampling process; Mr. Alex Acker provided modern yeast samples; Mr. Meng’en Chen provided modern fungal samples and assisted with identification of molds and yeasts; two reviewers provided constructive comments; and Dr. Thomas Bartlett edited the English. Institute of Archeology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences provided laboratory facilities.

Funding

The project was supported by the Min Kwaan Chinese Archeology Fund from Stanford Archeology Center, Stanford University.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

Conceptualization: Li Liu; Methodology, formal analysis, and writing: Li Liu and Jiajing Wang; Resources: Huifang Liu.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Li Liu.

Additional information

Publisher’s note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Electronic supplementary material

ESM 1

(DOCX 20.5 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Liu, L., Wang, J. & Liu, H. The brewing function of the first amphorae in the Neolithic Yangshao culture, North China. Archaeol Anthropol Sci 12, 118 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01069-3

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-020-01069-3

Keywords

  • Banpo
  • Jiangzhai
  • Alcohol fermentation
  • Starch granules
  • Phytoliths
  • Fungi