Beer: The Basis of Civilisation

The Venus of Laussel: Possibly a palaeolithic fertility symbol or the earliest evidence of a human drinking beer.

“Now in a minute” was a phrase spoken once, just once, by Dean Moore* Declan Moore at the European Beer Bloggers Conference. I warmed to him instantly. Anyone who lives in Wales or has watched Gavin & Stacey may be familiar with this peculiar little Welsh phrase, a cultural paradox that makes Mañana seen positively sensible. It’s these little touches that show there are still strong links amongst the Celtic Nations.

Declan was delivering a talk on ancient beer history. The hardened archeologist knew exactly what his audience wanted to hear and he regaled us with tales of drinking in Zimbabwe, where the local witch doctors made an illegal brew called “Seven Days”. It reputedly takes seven days to gather the ingredients, seven days to ferment it and seven days to get over the hangover.

Some years after a madcap night of drinking with witch doctors and tribesmen, Declan’s colleague put forward a hypothesis that the ancient stone barrows (fulacht fiadh) that litter Ireland’s landscape may have in fact been bronze age mash tuns. It came about from watching the locals bury their illicit booze in pits in the ground; a practice which sparked debate over the form of the horseshoe mounds. Other similar examples of ancient mash tuns have also been found in North Wales and Scotland. There’s no certainty what purpose these structures served our ancestors (other theories include cooking, tanning, and bathing) but it was a theory Declan was happy to run with.

A question which bothers some archaeologists is, apparently, why man opted to take up civilisation in the first place. Few people today would be willing to go without their warm homes, constant internet access and pulled-pork sandwiches, all products of civilisation, but it seems some archaeologists are concerned with what made early man give up a life of hunter-gathering and turn his hand to the backbreaking task of tilling the field, yoking the animal and constructing shelters.

The answer could be beer, an answer supported by the theory of the horse shoe mounds. Before any form of entertainment, when every day is a struggle for survival, getting well and truly battered was the only escape available to early man. For that short period at the end of the day, around the campfire with friends and family, the opportunity to transcend the mundane existence of life through singing, dancing and drinking, this may be the reason man chose to lay down his wandering ways, put sweat on his brow and till the field to make the grain he needed.

I guess some things never change.

(For a less hazy telling of this tale, I recommend you go to the source – Declan Moore’s own blog effectively covers the talk he delivered at the European Beer Blogger Conference).

*Edited on 02/08/14 – Several readers have kindly pointed out that Declan Moore’s name is, well, Declan, and not Dean Moore as I initially claimed in my original post. Sorry Declan. Here’s another Moore for everyone to enjoy:


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