For a long time, paleontologists and archaeologists thought that alcohol, specifically beer, was a byproduct of making bread, the leftover slurry from sustenance and settled life. But, as anyone in their 20s will tell you, what makes get-togethers fun — and social life tolerable — isn’t the food. As with the millennials, it seems, so too millennia ago. An archaeological team has found in Egypt a site which is likely the world’s oldest beer factory at Abydos, about 450 km from Cairo, which dates back to the first dynastic period (3150-2613 BC).
The evidence that beer predates bread was uncovered in 2018 at a site in Israel: A semi-nomadic tribe of hunter-gatherers was brewing the beverage around 13,000 years ago. The Abydos “factory” is considerably larger in scale — eight units, about 65-feet long and 8-feet wide have been uncovered. One of the purposes of the beverage in ancient Egypt, according to researchers, was in rituals, including burial rituals. Between Israel and Egypt, in revelry and ritual, it turns out that thirst for what Ernest Hemingway called the “only mechanical relief” has been as much, if not more responsible for ordering society.
The priests of the ancient world, like their later, even contemporary counterparts, insisted on quality produce as offerings to the gods. The logic is sound: Nothing but the best for the divine. And if, as is often the case, the beer must pass through the profane system of the ritual officiant to reach its heavenly source, all the better. Since the 2011 uprising in Egypt, now exacerbated by the pandemic, the tourism industry has suffered heavy losses. Unearthing new historical sites is part of the move to attract tourists. Perhaps, doing and drinking as the ancients did could help that cause.