Research for a half-century has indicated Stone Age farmers domesticated cereals not so much to fill their stomachs but to lighten their heads. Signs that people went to great lengths to obtain grains despite the hard work needed to make them edible ~ plus the knowledge that feasts were important community-building gatherings ~ support the idea that cereal grains were being turned into beer, says archaeologist Brian Hayden at Simon Fraser University in Canada.
Agriculture began in the Neolithic Period of the Stone Age about 11,500 years ago. Evidence suggests that until the Neolithic, cereals such as barley and rice constituted only a minor element of diets, most likely because they require so much labor to get anything edible from them.
"In traditional Mayan villages where I've worked, maize is used for tortillas and for chicha, the beer made there,” Hayden says. “Women spend five hours a day just grinding up the kernels.” However, sites in Syria suggest that people nevertheless went to unusual lengths at times just to procure cereal grains ~ up to 40 to 60 miles.
One might speculate, Hayden said, that the labor associated with grains could have made them attractive in feasts in which guests would be offered foods difficult or expensive to prepare, and beer could have been a key reason to procure the grains used to make them.
"It's not that drinking and brewing by itself helped start cultivation, it's this context of feasts that links beer and the emergence of complex societies," Hayden added.
Click here for the complete article.