In ancient Egypt, they drank thick beer from clay cups as a sign of status.

About 5,800 years ago, beer production contributed to the economic and ideological integration of Egyptian society

What did the elites of ancient Egypt drink during their celebrations? Centuries before the rise of the pharaohs in Egypt, the richest in Egypt drank a thick porridge-like beer at their ceremonies some 5,800 years ago.

A new study led by Jiajing Wang, an archaeologist at Dartmouth University, in the United States, revealed the type of beer consumed by the elites of ancient Egypt. Wang’s team analyzed several pottery fragments found in Hierakonpolis, an ancient city in southern Egypt.

The researchers detected beer residue in five beige jars, probably used to transport it in bulk. In addition, four glass-shaped containers made of fin-coated fine clay (a mixture of clay and water) with a black lid also revealed beer residue.

status symbol in this life and the next

Wang explained that beer was not simply a staple at that time, but a symbol of status and authority, important in elite celebrations and funeral rites in this life and the next. Composed mainly of wheat, barley and grass, this porridge was thick, probably cloudy, sweet and low in alcohol.

The researchers found starch granules, yeast cells and a small number of phytoliths — tiny structures in plant tissue that remain even after the rest of the plant decomposes.

They also analyzed tiny crystals from beer stones, also known as calcium oxalate, a kind of scale formed by chemical reactions that is the scourge of modern brewers to this day.

The plant material in the residue suggests that the beer puree was filtered to remove the grain from the cereal. They also found evidence of starch damage, the combined result of malting and crushing near the beginning of fermentation, a process that rarely occurs in other food processing techniques.

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600 years before the first Egyptian pharaoh

So far, more than a dozen former breweries have been identified in Hierakonpolis, although the details are still being investigated. It is known that the beer produced in one of the factories in Hierakonpolis was used for ritual activities in an elite cemetery near this location.

For this study, they used a method called microfossil residue analysis in 33 ceramic vessel fragments at Hierakonpolis. The fragments date from 3800 to 3600 BC, about 600 years before the time of the first Egyptian pharaoh, who scholars believe to be Narmer, considered the founder of the first dynasty and, in turn, the first king of a unified Egypt.

Brewing probably contributed to the economic and ideological integration of society, the rise of the elite and a unified Egypt. Furthermore, fermentation of the beverage in Hierakonpolis was a highly organized and specialized production, the researchers said.

REFERENCE

Ancient Egyptian elites used thick ale porridge in their ceremonies.

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