Was alcohol the primary catalyst for to the adoption of ceramics in the Near East Pottery Neolithic?
Turek asks this question. Could the data could soon point this direction? Hayden, Canuel and Shanse tell us in their 2012 Natufian paper, that the subject matter of brewing shouldn't be taken as 'mirthful', especially if beer was the gas that fueled the entire cereal-farming Neolithic!
Snip from "Bell Beaker beer drinkers (photograph by J. Turek, courtesy of Museo Arqueologico Madrid)"
Of course grain or any one 'thing' doesn't define the Neolithic. I like to think of it as a synthesis of specialized economies that all previously existed in the Paleolithic, albeit, independently. When enough of these Paleolithic specializations began converging the general farm economy was born.
There's no question as to the centrality of cereal farming to the Neolithic identity. This is probably because cereal farming is an activity that requires the labor of the whole community. Cereal farming symbolizes the idea of the Neolithic 'collective' over the rugged independence of the hunter-gatherer.
I'll jump around Turek's paper to highlight a few key points that stood out. Let's go back to exterior day one. What was the whole reason Near Easterners began using ceramics in the first place?
With the discovery of pottery and the beginnings of brewing beer, it’s a bit like a question of what occurred first, whether eggs or hen? It is generally believed that the invention of ceramics in the Near East enabled the common brewing of beer (Turek 2005). However, we have to bear in mind that evidence of malting and the oldest brewing dates back to the late Palaeolithic...
...Perhaps it was the production of beer that could have been the impetus for the beginning of Neolithic ceramic production.
This makes a lot of sense (especially as a beer drinker). Essentially Turek builds off an idea by Hayden et al, 2012
that cereal domestication and its dissemination was, in large part, about beer production and social cohesion
. What Turek suggests is that ceramic pottery could have been adopted precisely to make brewing more efficient, more abundant, and brewed with greater precision.
As is discussed in the Hayden paper, the native geography of cereals are in the northern foothills of the Zargos, not spread across the Levant or wherever. It also appears they were domesticated where they originated. So what was the point of domestication? The Hayden authors believe that mashing grain yields higher caloric returns on labor than threshing and milling. In other words, the earliest Mesolithic farmers began to scale up production of grains, not to make more baby mush and bread cakes, but because they had the capacity to convert larger and larger volumes of cereal (barley especially) into something immediately useful as sustenance and as a social commodity.
Where do the first ceramics appear in the Near East? In the foothills of the Northern Zargos. It is some of those specific sites that have yielded archaeologist, Patrick McGovern, the oldest evidence of alcohol production west of Asia. Again, it's important to point out a temporal connection between this ancient grain belt and the earliest adoption of pottery in the region.
So what does beer buy you?
Turek remarks on a theory by (Neustupny, 1998) that beer can buy you the time of fighting men or working men. Beer is a wage. It is bait to amass a workforce for field improvements or community projects. Workers in Uruk
and Egypt were paid in beer rations
. This is an important concept because the Neolithic is really about an economy of back-breaking labor. Digging wells, improving fields, reaping, sowing, building, cutting trees, defending. It's a time of collective projects that transform landscapes.
If you can imagine a team of guys dragging a limestone block across the desert, what is their daily caloric requirement? Or digging a well? Seems a lot of mega-sites of Europe could well have been built with beer-power.
The paper then moves to the beer drinking cultures of Central Europe with specialized drinking sets.
I'll save that for part 2...
Turek, Jan (2020). Beer, Pottery, Society and Early European Identity. Archaeologies, (), –. doi:10.1007/s11759-020-09406-7 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11759-020-09406-7
Beer is not only a favourite drink for many archaeologists, but is increasingly the subject of their research. Brewing and beer consumption have played a significant role in prehistoric human cultures around the world. Beer was a tasty, nutritious food, a substance affecting the mind, medicine, a religious symbol, as well as a social medium and an accelerator. Alcohol relieved the pain and prevented the spread of infection. Beer was a safe and healthy drink compared to contaminated water. At the time when our ancestors began to domesticate agricultural crops, they commonly produced not only bread but also beer. It is probable that the first ceramic vessels in the Near East were created precisely out of the need to more effectively control the technological process of beer production. Similarly, in the Central European Copper Age, beer production and its growing social significance influenced the emergence of the set Ceramic complex that lasted continuously for more than three millennia. Beer has entered almost all aspects of social life, from everyday consumption and social interactions to initiation ceremonies and major religious celebrations. The study of beer and other fermented beverages sheds light on many aspects of the biocultural development of humans on this planet.