Archaeologists uncover 13,000-year-old brewery in the Carmel

Study found the earliest evidence of alcohol production in a cave in northern Israel.

September 13, 2018 16:49
2 minute read.
The excavation team, Rakefet Cave (September 13, 2018).

The excavation team, Rakefet Cave (September 13, 2018). . (photo credit: DANNY NADEL)


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Researchers have discovered the earliest evidence of alcohol production, from 13,000 years ago, in the Rakefet Cave in the Carmel, Haifa University announced Thursday.

The discovery was made in a joint archaeological collaboration project by Haifa University and Stanford University researchers.

Archaeologists analyzed three stone mortars from the 13,000-year-old Natufian burial cave site in Israel, concluding that these mortars were used for brewing wheat/barley, as well as for food storage.

The researchers explained that the earliest archaeological evidence for cereal-based brewing, even before the advent of agriculture, comes from the Natufians – a semi-sedentary, foraging people, living in the Eastern Mediterranean between the Paleolithic and the Neolithic periods, following the last Ice Age.

The Natufians at Rakefet Cave collected locally available plants, stored malted seeds and made beer as a part of their rituals, according to the study.

The researchers found evidence of several different grains stored in mortars, including wheat, barley, oats, legumes and flax. An examination of two mortars found microscopic remains of starch grains that underwent morphological changes that correspond to changes in starch that occur in the process of fermentation.

The evidence indicates that the craters were used to store grains before and after fermentation.

In a third mortar, the researchers found evidence that it was used for storage and as a receptacle in which grains could be beaten and crushed, a necessary stage of fermentation.

Alcohol-making and food storage were among the major technological innovations that eventually led to the development of civilizations in the world, and archaeological science is a powerful means to help reveal their origins and decode their contents,” said Li Liu, PhD, from the department of East Asian languages and cultures of Stanford University.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to present our findings, which shed new light on a deeper history of human society.”

The study was published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

“The Natufian remains in Rakefet Cave never stop surprising us,” said Prof. Dani Nadel of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology, University of Haifa, who was also an excavator of the site. “We exposed a Natufian burial area with about 30 individuals; a wealth of small finds such as flint tools, animal bones and ground stone implements, and about 100 stone mortars and cup marks.

Some of the skeletons are well-preserved and provided direct dates and even human DNA, and we have evidence for flower burials and wakes by the graves.

“And now, with the production of beer, the Rakefet Cave remains provide a very vivid and colorful picture of Natufian lifeways, their technological capabilities and inventions,” he added.

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