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article imageStudy: Secret of a stable society is beer

By Tim Sandle     Apr 19, 2019 in Science
There are many factors that have contributed with the progression of human societies and a move to a more stable form of existence. One factor that may surprise many is beer, but the alcoholic drink has been of great importance say researchers.
The new finding comes from the Field Museum, and here anthropologists and archaeologists make the case that a steady, reliable access to beer helped to maintain unity in early societies. The research is focused on an ancient Peruvian brewery at the time of the Wari Empire. The Wari Empire was a political formation, based around the coastal and highland areas of ancient Peru, that emerged around 600 CE in the central highlands of Peru and lasted for about 500 years, to 1100 CE. The empire eventually gave way to the Inca.
The researchers looked at what beer was made of and where the materials to make the vessels used to hold the beverage came from. The researchers contend that as societies learnt the production methods for making, storing, and selling beer, this had a strong influence on societal development.
According to lead researcher Professor Ryan Williams: "This study helps us understand how beer fed the creation of complex political organizations." He adds: "We were able to apply new technologies to capture information about how ancient beer was produced and what it meant to societies in the past."
One area visited as part of the field research is described as a microbrewery. This production house was located close to taverns were communities gathered to drink the locally brewed ale. The main type of beer produced was a a light, sour beverage called chicha, which would remain stable and drinkable for around one week. The short-term life of the beer was another factor in bolstering the community around the act of drinking - people had to come to the tavern to drink, the beer could not be sent any kind of distance.
The beer was not only drunk socially; the consumption also played an essential role in ritual performances as well as being a part of political gatherings, which shows how beer drinking became ever more important to the Wari society.
Speaking with National Geographic, Patrick McGovern from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (and who was not involved with research) comments how the findings "demonstrate once again how ancient fermented beverages were central to human communities around the world."
The researchers also looked into early beer production techniques, noting how ingredients were local and typical for the Peruvian area, including the use of pepper berries. These berries are very hardy and would grow even in droughts, meaning that the continuity of beer supply was an important consideration for early societies. The decision to make beer from ingredients that were available even when other crops failed is seen as another factor that helped to form a social structure around brewing and consuming beer.
The findings are published in the journal Sustainability, with the research paper titled "Archaeometric Approaches to Defining Sustainable Governance: Wari Brewing Traditions and the Building of Political Relationships in Ancient Peru."
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