For some, the origin of beer dates to somewhere around 2008. That’s when the craft-beer revolution hit its full triple-hopped stride, an extraordinary development in human civilization to be sure. Or maybe some old-timers would date it to 1878 when Rainier Beer appeared on the local scene. But to some historians, the bold, experimental small-scale approach bears quite a resemblance to the beer craze that hit Mesopotamia in about 3500 B.C.
Martin Zarnkow, a professor at the Technical University of Munich in Germany and an eminent beer historian, was quoted by National Geographic as saying, “Craft brewers today aren’t discovering anything new. Billions of people have brewed, over thousands of years.”
Another expert, Patrick E. McGovern, a historian and author of Uncorking the Past entertains the idea that it may have been the desire to imbibe that encouraged hunter-gatherers to settle down and farm domesticated crops of grain—the “beer before bread” theory of civilization.
To trace the origins of alcoholic beverages, McGovern works with archeologists, often interpreting shards of pottery they have unearthed. He also uses modern chemistry techniques to extract residues from what remains of ancient alcohol and storage urns. At the excavation of Godin Tepe, a temple located high in the Zagros Mountains in present-day Iran, dating to approximately 3500 B.C., archeologists discovered wine jars, domesticated grain, and evidence of barley beer—a residual compound called calcium oxalate, known as beerstone by brewers.
McGovern writes, “Any self-respecting lowland proto-Sumerian or proto-Elamite living at Godin would have wanted beer as well as wine. We know from later texts that beer was the drink of the masses in lowland Mesopotamia. Even the upper class would normally have enjoyed beer, with many varieties to choose from, including light, dark and amber beers, sweet beers, and specially filtered beers.”
Does that not sound a lot like a beer flight at one of our many wonderful local craft breweries?
The “beer before bread” theory suggests that with a steady supply of buzzworthy inebriants civilization was off and running—with alcohol stimulating human creativity and the development of culture. What’s indisputable is that research over the last three decades has provided good evidence from ancient civilizations spanning the globe that beer and other alcoholic beverages have been an important part of human culture since the earliest settlements.
So, the next time you’re enjoying one of humanity’s great inventions—the combination of pizza and beer (delivered right to your door)—take a moment to raise your glass to the Sumerians of Mesopotamia for making it all possible.