Researchers with Dartmouth College have detailed the discovery of beer residue in 9,000-year-old pottery, shedding light on both the habits and recipes used by people in ancient China. The findings indicate the beer was likely used as part of a ritual, according to the study, which notes that human remains were found in the same area.
The study, which was recently published in the journal PLOS ONE, details a small cache of pottery items found in China’s Qiaotou, a city located in the Zhejiang province. Multiple pottery vessels described as high quality were found near a ditch made by humans. The mound with the ancient pottery was also home to two human skeletons.
The scientists took samples of the residue preserved inside the pottery and tested it to find out what kind of substance was used as part of the apparent ritual. The analysis found multiple ingredients hinting at use with an ancient form of beer, one that would have been less fermented and sweeter than modern-day beer equivalents.
Ingredients in the pottery included yeast and mold residues, tiny granules of starch, and fossilized plant matter called phytolith. The findings were consistent with ancient beer, according to the researchers, who noted that this residue wouldn’t be found in the natural soil in that spot.
The ancient beer would have contained some of the rice that was grown in the region, some unknown tubers, and a type of grain called Job’s tears. With these ingredients, the researchers say the ‘beer’ was probably cloudy and only slightly fermented. Given the difficulty that would have come with harvesting the ingredients and making the beer, the researchers speculate that it was probably used as a ritualistic beverage.
Image by Jiajing Wang