Kevin Lewis

December 04, 2021

Predynastic beer production, distribution, and consumption at Hierakonpolis, Egypt
Jiajing Wang, Renee Friedman & Masahiro Baba
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, December 2021

Beer was a staple food, but also served a variety of social functions in the political economy of Ancient Egypt. Recent excavations at Hierakonpolis, a major site of Egypt’s Pre- and Early Dynastic period, have revealed large-scale brewery installations, suggesting that the beverage played a significant role in the development of complex society and the expression of power and status, with collateral impact on craft specialization. However, there is as yet no definite consensus on how beer was produced, distributed or consumed in Predynastic Egypt. To address this gap, this research applies microfossil residue analyses on pottery fragments recovered at two different areas at Hierakonpolis: from a midden near the Predynastic beer production site at Locality HK11C; and from the Second Dynasty ceremonial enclosure of King Khasekhemwy. The results provide the first scientific evidence for a long tradition of beer jars — pottery vessels specifically for and symbolic of beer — beginning in the early Naqada II phase of the Predynastic period. The results suggest that beer production contributed to the economic and ideological integration of society, the rise of the elite, and the cultural unification that took place leading up to the consolidation of the centralized political state. 

From Hangovers to Hierarchies: Beer production and use during the Chalcolithic period of the southern Levant – New evidence from Tel Tsaf and Peqi‘in Cave
Danny Rosenberg et al.
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, December 2021

The production of alcoholic beverages is connected to a wide range of activities associated with growing social complexity. Beer production has a long history in the southern Levant, where the first evidence appeared during the later Epipalaeolithic period. However, there is meager evidence between then and the Early Bronze Age period, when advanced regional trade systems developed. To fill this gap, the current paper presents evidence for beer production and consumption based on microfossil analysis of two ceramic strainers unearthed at two Chalcolithic sites: Tel Tsaf (ca. 5200–4700 cal. BC), a settlement site in the Jordan Valley with evidence for large scale storage and long-distance ties, and Peqi‘in Cave (ca. 4500–3900 cal. BC), a burial site in the Upper Galilee. The microfossils (phytoliths, starch granules, yeast cells, and fibers) indicate that both strainers once contained fermented beverages made from Triticeae (wheat/barley), Panicoideae, and Cyperus tubers. These results suggest that beer production and consumption using strainers may have been regularly practiced during different phases of the Chalcolithic, and beer appears to have played an important role in various social settings for communication among social groups as well as between the living and the deceased. 

Red beer consumption and elite utensils: The emergence of competitive feasting in the Yangshao culture, North China
Suofei Feng et al.
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, December 2021

In this paper, we focus on a Neolithic Yangshao culture community with emergent social hierarchy associated with feasting activities. We analyzed the microfossil remains (micro-botanical and fungi) on 15 vessels excavated from the cemetery section of the Xipo site in northern China, highlighting four dakougang large vats with non-local characteristics from the two largest elite tombs (ca. 3300–2900 cal BC). The results revealed hongqujiu red beer, and the brewing method was likely using red mold Monascus as the main saccharification agent in a semi-solid-state fermentation condition, which is unprecedented in Yangshao cultural assemblages based on current data. This brewing method likely originated in the eastern coastal regions and may have been introduced to Xipo as an exotic and prestigious item. Large quantities of red beer and elite ceramics may have been used to advertise elite’s social status in competitive feasts. Such feasts may have been not only conducted by the living elites as a power competition, but also expected to be carried out by their deceased ancestors in the afterlife. The red beer appears to have played a pivotal role in this ritualized continuum between the present world and the supposed future life. 

Hunters Who Haul with Dogs: Man’s Best-Friend or Woman’s Little Helper?
Karen Lupo
Human Ecology, December 2021, Pages 707–719

The use of dogs in haulage at the end of the Pleistocene is viewed as a pivotal event that facilitated the spread of modern humans into new environments. Using historic records and comparative data from 56 ethnographic cases, this study examines how canid haulage influenced different dimensions of populations mobility. These data show that while hauling dogs did not increase travel speed, they did improve the transport capacity of human populations. Improvements in transport capacity from canids is associated with the use of larger territories and longer distances in annual residential moves but not frequency of movement. Reductions in the energetic costs of transport for long residential and logistical moves benefited human populations, especially women, who are often tasked with carrying household burdens, more than men. The importance of hauling dogs in daily household activities likely had profound evolutionary impacts on prehistoric human-canid interactions. 

Vocal size exaggeration may have contributed to the origins of vocalic complexity
Katarzyna Pisanski, Andrey Anikin & David Reby
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, forthcoming

Vocal tract elongation, which uniformly lowers vocal tract resonances (formant frequencies) in animal vocalizations, has evolved independently in several vertebrate groups as a means for vocalizers to exaggerate their apparent body size. Here, we propose that smaller speech-like articulatory movements that alter only individual formants can serve a similar yet less energetically costly size-exaggerating function. To test this, we examine whether uneven formant spacing alters the perceived body size of vocalizers in synthesized human vowels and animal calls. Among six synthetic vowel patterns, those characterized by the lowest first and second formant (the vowel /u/ as in ‘boot’) are consistently perceived as produced by the largest vocalizer. Crucially, lowering only one or two formants in animal-like calls also conveys the impression of a larger body size, and lowering the second and third formants simultaneously exaggerates perceived size to a similar extent as rescaling all formants. As the articulatory movements required for individual formant shifts are minor compared to full vocal tract extension, they represent a rapid and energetically efficient mechanism for acoustic size exaggeration. We suggest that, by favouring the evolution of uneven formant patterns in vocal communication, this deceptive strategy may have contributed to the origins of the phonemic diversification required for articulated speech. 

Collapse of the Liangzhu and other Neolithic cultures in the lower Yangtze region in response to climate change
Haiwei Zhang et al.
Science Advances, 24 November 2021

The Liangzhu culture in the Yangtze River Delta (YRD) was among the world’s most advanced Neolithic cultures. Archeological evidence suggests that the Liangzhu ancient city was abandoned, and the culture collapsed at ~4300 years ago. Here, we present speleothem records from southeastern China in conjunction with other paleoclimatic and archeological data to show that the Liangzhu culture collapsed within a short and anomalously wet period between 4345 ± 32 and 4324 ± 30 years ago, supporting the hypothesis that the city was abandoned after large-scale flooding and inundation. We further show that the demise of Neolithic cultures in the YRD occurred within an extended period of aridity that started at ~4000 ± 45 years ago. We suggest that the major hydroclimatic changes between 4300 and 3000 years ago may have resulted from an increasing frequency of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation in the context of weakened Northern Hemisphere summer insolation. 

Population collapse or human resilience in response to the 9.3 and 8.2 ka cooling events: A multi-proxy analysis of Mesolithic occupation in the Scheldt basin (Belgium)
Elliot Van Maldegem et al.
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, December 2021

This paper explores the impact of environmental, e.g. sea level rise, and climatic events, e.g. abrupt cooling events, on Mesolithic populations (ca. 11,350 to 6600 cal BP) living in the western Scheldt basin of Belgium and Northern France. The Mesolithic in this study-area has been extensively studied during the last few decades, leading to an extensive database of radiocarbon dates (n = 418), sites (n = 157) and excavated loci (n = 145). A multi-proxy analysis of this database reveals important changes both chronologically and geographically, which are interpreted in terms of population dynamics and changing mobility and land-use. The results suggest a population peak and high residential mobility in the Early Mesolithic, followed by a population shift and increased intra-basin mobility in the Middle Mesolithic, possibly triggered by the rapid inundation of the North Sea basin. The situation during the Late Mesolithic remains less clear but a possible reduction in the mobility seems likely. Currently there is little evidence supporting a causal link between these diachronic changes in human behavior and the 9.3 and 8.2 ka cooling events. Most of the observed changes seem more in response to long-term climatic and environmental changes during the Early and Middle Holocene, hinting at considerable resilience. 

Hunter-gatherer metallurgy in the Early Iron Age of Northern Fennoscandia
Carina Bennerhag et al.
Antiquity, December 2021, Pages 1511-1526

The role of ferrous metallurgy in ancient communities of the Circumpolar North is poorly understood due, in part, to the widespread assumption that iron technology was a late introduction, passively received by local populations. Analyses of two recently excavated sites in northernmost Sweden, however, show that iron technology already formed an integral part of the hunter-gatherer subsistence economy in Northern Fennoscandia during the Iron Age (c. 200–50 BC). Such developed knowledge of steel production and complex smithing techniques finds parallels in contemporaneous continental Europe and Western Eurasia. The evidence presented raises broader questions concerning the presence of intricate metallurgical processes in societies considered less complex or highly mobile. 

“Proposing a toast” from the first urban center in the north Loess Plateau, China: Alcoholic beverages at Shimao
Yahui He et al.
Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, December 2021

Alcoholic beverages were used in ancient rituals and feasting, often to embody elite status and power, to mark communal activities, or simply for everyday consumption. Scholars have traditionally interpreted pitchers, a common pottery vessel type in late Neolithic China, as specialized alcohol serving vessels. However, little research has been done to characterize the true use of these vessels through scientific analysis of excavated materials from the middle Yellow River region. In this study, by analyzing microbotanical residues on ten pitchers, two cups, three lids, and one storage jar from the Shimao site (ca. 4300–3800 cal. BP), one of the earliest urban centers in late Neolithic north China, we discover remains of a beer brewed using a malting method. The main ingredients include millet, Triticeae, rice, lily, snake gourd root, Zingiberaceae root (ginger or turmeric), and beans. The pitchers may have been used for serving and heating the fermented beverages. This result not only reveals for the first time the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the late Neolithic Loess Plateau, but also highlights the interplay among feasting activities, social hierarchies, and interregional interactions in the process of early urbanization in this region.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.