Merryn Dineley M. Phil University of Manchester 1999 Published 2004 as Barley Malt & Ale in the Neolithic BAR S1213
Barley, Malt and Ale in the Neolithic
M. Phil Thesis
Merryn Dineley BA
Submitted to the University of Manchester
Department of Art History and Archaeology
Published as a British Archaeological Report in 2004
Supervisor Dr David Coombs
External supervisor Dr Stuart Campbell
University of Manchester
Malted barley ‘cakes’ or ‘bappir’ have been made on the stone. The bowl contains sweet barley mash and wort; fermentable
malt sugars. This is the magic of the barley.
This demonstration of mashing was done at the Eindhoven Open Air Museum, Easter 2009.
For more details see Dineley, M. 2011 “Experiment or Demonstration? Making Fermentable Malt Sugars from the Grain and a
Discussion of some of the Evidence for this Activity in the British Neolithic” in Millson, D. (ed) Experimentation and
Interpretation. The Use of Experimental Archaeology in the Study of the Past. Oxbow Books.
Merryn Dineley M. Phil University of Manchester 1999 Published 2004 as Barley Malt & Ale in the Neolithic BAR S1213
Abstract and acknowledgements
List of illustrations
INTRODUCTION Page 6
CHAPTER ONE: The Conversion of Grain into Malt and Ale Page 8
1. The techniques and biochemistry of brewing
a) Malting: the controlled germination of the grain
b) Kilning the malt
c) Mashing: the conversion of starches into malt sugars
d) Obtaining a sweet wort for fermentation
e) Boiling the wort with flavourings and preservatives
f) Fermentation; the conversion of sugars into alcohol
2. Necessary materials and equipment
CHAPTER TWO: Additives to Preserve and Flavour Ale Page 20
1. Additives used in Medieval and Viking times
2. Archaeological evidence: herbal additives in prehistoric Europe
CHAPTER THREE: Barley in the Levant, Ancient Near East and Egypt Page 26
1. The ‘bread/beer’ debate
2. Hunting and gathering groups: Near East/Levant in the 9th and 8th millennia BC
3. Early grain cultivation and processing in the 7th and 6th millennia BC
4. Early pottery neolithic cultures in the 6th and 5th millennia BC
5. Evidence of fermentation of barley wort in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC
6. Brewing in ancient Egypt in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC
CHAPTER FOUR: Grain in Neolithic Europe Page 36
1. The transition to agriculture in Europe
2. European Neolithic: 6th and 5th millennia BC
3. Mesolithic and early Neolithic: 5th and 4th millennia
4. Neolithic groups: 4th and 3rd millennia BC
CHAPTER FIVE: The Stone Buildings of Neolithic Orkney Page 49
1. Neolithic settlements of Orkney: 4th and 3rd millennia BC
Knap of Howar, Papa Westray
Barnhouse, Mainland Orkney
Skara Brae, Skaill Bay, mainland Orkney
Rinyo, Bigland Round, Rinyo
Other Orcadian settlements
2. Women as brewers and healers in Neolithic Orkney
CHAPTER SIX: The Grooved Ware Culture in Neolithic Britain Page 71
1. The transition to agriculture
2. Suitable vessels for ale
3. Organic residues
4. Suitable buildings
5. Durrington Walls
6. The interpretation of Neolithic timber buildings
7. The Grooved Ware culture
SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION Page 82
CONCLUSIONS Page 85
BIBLIOGRAPHY Page 86
Merryn Dineley M. Phil University of Manchester 1999 Published 2004 as Barley Malt & Ale in the Neolithic BAR S1213
List of illustrations
1.1 Suitable equipment to ferment a barley wort
1.2 Grooved Ware vessels from Skara Brae, Orkney
1.3 Inside the grain barn, Corrigall Farm Museum, Orkney
1.4 Ground plan of the 200 year old barn at Corrigall Farm Museum
1.5 The excavated remains of the U-shaped ditch at Eberdingen-Hochdorf, north Germany
1.6 Carbonised malt from Eberdingen-Hochdorf
1.7 Sparging the wort with a grain bag and bucket
1.8 Egyptian maltsters, mashers and brewers
1.9 Pale crushed malt mixed with abundant water in a sealed pottery bowl
1.10 The saccharification of the barley mash
1.11 Rectangular hearth based on the Orcadian Neolithic
1.12 Crushed malt and sweet barley mash
1.13 Pure sweet malt liquid in a container used to store the barley mash
1.14 Settling and settled wort
1.15 Table of the basic equipment for processing grain into malt, sugars and ale
1.16 Pollen analysis from beaker found at North Mains, Strathallan, Scotland
1.17 Pollen analysis from beaker found at Ashgrove, Fife, Scotland
2.1 Ground Ivy (Glechmona hederacea)
2.2 Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale)
2.3 Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
2.4 Henbane plant (Hyoscyamus niger)
2.5 Henbane flower
2.6 The food vessel from North mains, Strathallan, Scotland, with Meadowsweet flowers
3.1 Katz and Voigt’s theories of biocultural evolution
3.2 Map of the Near East and Levant to show sites discussed in the text
3.3 White ware vessels from pre-pottery sites in the Near East and Levant
3.4 Plaster statues from Ain Ghazal, Jordan, c6500 BC
3.5 The terracotta figurine of a goddess found in a grain bin at Catal Huyuk, Anatolia
3.6 Wooden, stone and pottery vessels from Catal Huyuk, Anatolia
3.7 Early Dynastic seal impressions depicting drinking scenes
4.1 Map to show the spread of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent into Europe and Britain
4.2 Map to show the areas inhabited by the Ertebolle and Linearbandkeramik cultures
4.3 Ground plans of House 59, Tell Ovchorovo, Bulgaria
4.4 Ceramic ‘sieve’ sherds from Linearbandkeramik sites
4.5 Linearbandkeramik bowl, cups, flint knives, arrowheads and polished stone adzes
4.6 Characteristic Ertebolle pottery
4.7 Map to show sites of Swifterbant group settlements
4.8 Chronological chart to show European Neolithic cultures
4.9 Drinking vessels, baking plate and bowl from TRB or Funnel beaker culture
4.10 A so-called ‘face pot’ from southern Scandinavia
4.11 A variety of middle neolithic pottery found in passage graves, southern Scandinavia
4.12 Some of the types of Drouwen B TRB pottery from west Holland
5.1 Map to show the Orkney Islands with the location of sites discussed
5.2 Ground plan of the buildings at Knap of Howar, Papa Westray, Orkney
5.3 Large, deep pottery vessel from Knap of Howar
5.4 Wide, shallow bowl from Knap of Howar
5.5 The smaller building (House 2) at Knap of Howar showing the entrance
5.6 View of House 2 from beside the doorway, showing middle and rear sections
5.7 Areas constructed at the rear (left) of House 2 that may have been used for sleeping or resting
5.8 Storage places incorporated in the wall construction at the rear (right) of House 2
5.9 The passage leading from House 2 into House 1 to the right of the main entrance to House 2
5.10 The different sizes of doorways in House 1 at Knap of Howar
5.11 The low stone construction on the floor in House 1
5.12 The grain processing area at the rear of House 1
5.13 Ground plan of the settlement at Barnhouse, Orkney
5.14 Building 2, Barnhouse, showing drains in the northwest corner and by the entrance
5.15 Ground plan of the settlement at Skara Brae, Orkney
5.16 Grooved ware pottery vessels from Skara Brae discovered during Clarke’s excavations
5.17 Ground plan of Hut 8, Skara Brae
5.18 A good view of the kiln flue, Hut 8
5.19 Ground plan of Hut 7 showing furnishings as described by childe
5.20 Inside Hut 7, looking at Pit P
5.21 The plinth by the door, inside Hut 7
5.22 Large pottery bucket from Rinyo, Rousay
5.23 Location map of Rinyo, Rousay
5.24 Ground plan of Rinyo, Rousay
5.25 Childe’s photographs of hearths or ovens at Rinyo, Rousay
6.1 Map of the British Isles, Ireland, Western Isles and Orkney showing locations of sites
6.2 Reconstruction drawings of two Grooved Ware vessels from Balfarg, Scotland, (P63 and P63)
6.3 Ground plan of Balbridie timber hall, Scotland
6.4 Ground plan of Lismore Fields, Derbyshire
6.5 Ground plans of selected timber buildings of Ireland
The keystone of this thesis is the fact that the biochemical laws that govern the processes of malting, mashing and fermentation
remain unchanged throughout the Millennia. Therefore, these practical, science-based experiments are a valid means of
examining these processes and of assessing an assemblage pattern or ‘archaeological signature’ for grain processing, malting
and brewing activity in the past.
This research began by studying the probable techniques and methods of maltsters and brewers in the Bronze Age. The focus
soon turned to the Neolithic, given the identification of cereal-based residues mixed with pollen on sherds from large Grooved
Ware vessels that were dated to the early 4th millennium BC, found at a ritual and ceremonial site at Balfarg, Fife, Scotland.
Barley, as well as being a source of carbohydrate in the diet is also a potential source of malt, malt sugars and ale if processed
Biochemical and practical aspects of processing grain into sweet malts and ale on a domestic scale are described in Chapter
One, with illustrations of the reconstructive experimental work undertaken in mashing, making barley ‘cakes’ or bappir,
obtaining the sweet wort from the mash and fermenting. If ale is to keep well then herbal additives must be added to the wort
during the boil. Hops are currently used but in Medieval times and earlier, meadowsweet and other common herbs were used
to preserve, enhance or flavour the ale. This aspect is investigated in Chapter Two.
Chapter Three considers the earliest grain gatherers and processors of the 9th millennium BC and the consequent development
of domestication, cultivation and processing of grain throughout the Levant, the Near East and Egypt.
Chapter Four evaluates some of the archaeological evidence for these processes in Europe, from the 6th to the 3rd millennium
BC. Specific cultural groups are considered, for example, the Bulgarian settlement tells of the 6th and 5th millennia BC, the
widespread agricultural groups of the 5th and 4th millennia BC, known as the Linearbandkeramik and the TRB or Funnel
Beaker culture of the 4th and 3rd millennia BC. The coastal European Mesolithic cultures of the 5th and 4th millennia BC, known
as the Ertebølle and Ellerbeck cultures are also considered.
Chapter Five is an analysis of the well-preserved stone buildings of the Orcadian Neolithic that date to the 4th and 3rd millennia
BC. Excavations since the publication of this thesis at the Ness of Brodgar, Mainland Orkney, have revealed a ceremonial
centre, described as a ‘Temple Precinct’ by the excavation team (Card et al, ORCA). Vast amounts of highly decorated
Grooved Ware vessels, a complex drainage system and hundreds of cattle bones indicate that large scale feasting took place
there in the Neolithic.
Chapter Six assesses the Grooved Ware culture of Mainland Britain and the potential for transforming grain into sweet malts
and ale. The role of women as grain cultivators and processors is also considered. Since publication of this thesis, excavations
at the Neolithic site of Durrington Walls have revealed large scale feasting events (Stonehenge Riverside Project). Here, pig
meat was consumed as well as ale, given the vast amounts of Grooved Ware found in Wainwright’s excavations in the 1970s.
I would like to acknowledge the help and advice of a number of people who have been of assistance in the production of this
thesis. Graham Dineley, my husband and a craft brewer of over twenty five years’ experience, continues to be very helpful in
demonstrating and explaining the practical application of biochemical theory in mashing and brewing. A true craftsman.
Harry Flett, Curator of the Corrigall Farm Museum, Harray, Orkney, grew and malted Bere barley that was used in some of the
mashing and brewing experiments. He also shared his experiences and his knowledge of malting.
Fawcett’s Maltsters of Castleford, Derbyshire, provided malted grain for the experimental mashing work. This company is one
of the last remaining traditional floor maltsters in the British Isles. I would like to thank Mr. James Fawcett for his interest in
this research and for sharing his knowledge of the ancient craft of malting.
Arlene Isbister, an artist from Harray, Orkney, demonstrated the use of haematite as a pigment and introduced me to the
academic work of Dr Hilda Ellis Davidson.
Many thanks are due to Sam Dineley for his hard work, time, effort and skill in re-formatting the original M.Phil thesis for
publication as a BAR in 2004.
“Our prehistoric fathers may have been savages, but they were clever and observant ones.... the art and practice of the brewer
are founded on empirical observation...the brewer learnt from long experience the conditions not the reasons for success”
John Tyndall; extracts from his speech on Fermentation
Glasgow Science Lectures Association October 19th 1876
Grain in prehistoric diet
The preparation and consumption of food and drink are important aspects of prehistory that can provide a valuable
insight into the daily lives of people in past societies. The introduction of the cultivation of grain in the Near East and the
spread of the agricultural lifestyle across Europe and into the British Isles was a great change in the lives and habits of
Mesolithic people. It is one of the most important changes to have occurred in prehistory. After millennia of subsistence
activities based on hunting, gathering and fishing people began to cultivate and therefore to have control over a variety of
crops, including wheat and barley. They also began to domesticate animals. Much has been written of this so-called “Neolithic
Revolution”, that is, the period of change from gathering, hunting and fishing to that of farming and herding. It was a change
of lifestyle that occurred at different times in different parts of the world, but what was it that made people choose to cultivate
wheat and barley, in particular?
Cereal grains are a major source of carbohydrate in the human diet, being useful for making porridge, bread and flour.
They are also unique as a potential source of malt and malt sugars that can be fermented into beer or ale. With a minimum of
simple equipment, such as containers, water and heat, it is possible to trick the barley into digesting itself into sugars. This
aspect of grain processing has been overlooked in much of the archaeological literature relating to the transition from
Mesolithic to Neolithic.
Brewing in the 21st century has become a global, multi-million pound technological business, with large breweries
producing billions of gallons of beer annually. Many of these large breweries whose names are so familiar today such as Bass,
Worthington, Younger and Guinness have only been in existence since the middle of the 18th Century. Prior to this quite recent
industrialisation malt, beer and ale were manufactured either domestically or locally on a small scale.
The techniques of brewing small amounts of beer from malted grain have become largely neglected and the skill of
domestic brewing is no longer a part of most peoples’ daily experience. This thesis, based upon the biochemistry of malting
and brewing and upon small-scale domestic brewing methods (Line 1980) proposes that Mesolithic cultures were interested in
making particular products from the grain, that is, sweet malts and ale and that this was a major factor in the decision to
selectively cultivate grain.
The ‘bread or beer’ debate
Robert Braidwood of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (1953) first posed the question ‘Did man once
live by beer alone?’ and this debate still continues today. Solomon Katz (1986, 1991) has coined the phrase ‘biocultural
evolution’ and he argues for the importance of the transference of specialised food processing techniques to subsequent
generations. Certain processing activities, such as brewing, become enshrined in ritual. Brian Hayden (1996) agrees with Katz
and Voigt that grain was first domesticated to produce ale for consumption at feasts and at other special occasions. However,
he notes the difficulty of finding direct archaeological evidence for early farming techniques and such grain processing activity
as brewing (Hayden 1990).
Most recently Alexander Joffe (1998:297) has proposed “the production, exchange and consumption of alcoholic
beverages form a significant element and regularity in the emergence of complex, hierarchically organised societies, along
with the restructuring of labour and gender relations.” Although these arguments are in the context of early Neolithic cultures
in the Near East, the Levant and Egypt, they are equally as relevant to grain cultivation and processing across Europe and in
the British Isles during the Neolithic.
Brewing in history and prehistory
Both the manufacture and the consumption of a wide range of alcoholic beverages are understood to have been
important aspects of social, economic, religious and ritual life in Iron Age Europe (Dietler 1989), in Viking cultures and in
early medieval Europe (Woolf & Eldridge 1994, Davidson 1998). Drinking horns and a huge bronze cauldron that contained
the remnants of mead was found in a rich ‘princely’ grave at Hochdorf, Germany, dated to the 1st millennium BC (Biel et al
1985 Vol 1:147). A large quantity of carbonised malt, accidentally burnt as it was being kilned, was found at Eberdingen-
Hochdorf (Stika 1996:81). Malt is the primary ingredient for beer or ale.
The earliest written references to ale being made in the British Isles can be found in the Vindolanda tablets, dated to
the early 1st millennium AD. Roman soldiers recorded their purchases of barley ale made by the local tribes. Pliny refers to the
Gallic tribes of Northern Europe making “intoxicating drinks from corn steeped in water...that are capable of being kept until
they have attained a considerable age” (Pliny XIV Ch 29). There are also many references to the manufacture and consumption
of ale and mead in the myths, legends and skaldic verse of the Viking Age in northern Europe.
Ale and mead were consumed on many occasions, for example at religious feasts and festivals, at funerals, in drinking
competitions and before the men departed to sea in the spring (Gayre 1948:45, Davidson 1988:11,12). Women were usually
responsible for the manufacture of alcoholic drinks in the societies cited above and there were close associations between the
consumption of ale and the worship of deities (Dietler 1990:392, Joffe 1998:299, Davidson 1998:138). Ale is manufactured
from malt, with herbs added for flavour and preservation. Mead is fermented honey and water with similar flavourings and
preservatives as those used in the brewing of ale, such as Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). Honey was frequently added to
the malt and so it is difficult to be clear as to the precise nature of the ‘ale’ and ‘mead’ referred to in ancient texts, myths and
There is convincing evidence for the manufacture of both ale and mead during the Bronze Age in Europe and in the
British Isles. Organic residues within a beaker accompanying a female burial in a stone-lined cist at North Mains, Strathallan,
Fife, were analysed and found to consist of cereal residues and Meadowsweet pollen. They were dated to c1540 BC (Barclay et
al 1983). The excavators interpreted this as being the probable remains of a fermented cereal-based drink. At Ashgrove, Fife,
Scotland, a beaker containing significant quantities of Lime Flower (Tilia cordata) and Meadowsweet pollen was discovered,
again in a stone-lined cist accompanying a burial (Dickson 1978). The contents of the beaker were probably mead rather than
ale. Vessels made of birch bark have been found at Egtved and at other Danish bog burial sites. Analysis of the contents
indicates the “debris of wheat grains, leaves of bog myrtle (Myrica gale) and fruits of cranberry” (Dickson 1978:111). Bog
myrtle was an additive used regularly as a preservative in the manufacture of ale prior to the introduction of hops in the late
Middle Ages (Vencl 1994, Bennett 1996).
In recent years organic residues that might indicate the manufacture of alcoholic drinks have been found on Neolithic
pottery assemblages at ritual and domestic sites within the British Isles. Residues on sherds of Grimston-Lyles pottery and
Grooved Ware from pits at Machrie Moor, Arran, were analysed and found to contain cereal pollen together with macro plant
remains. These were interpreted as the probable remains of a mead-type drink (Haggerty 1991:91).
Cereal based residues were found on sherds of large Grooved Ware vessels that had been buried in pits situated close
by a rectangular timber structure at a Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial site at Balfarg/Balbirnie, Tayside. Pollen from
plants including Meadowsweet, Henbane, Deadly Nightshade, Cabbage and Mustards were noted in these residues, an
interesting mixture of additives perhaps indicating some kind of fermented mead/ale type brew with special properties (Moffatt
in Barclay et al 1993). At the Neolithic village at Barnhouse, Orkney, barley residues have been identified on some of the
Grooved Ware vessels (Jones 2000). Scientific analysis, specifically Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry, has
indicated the presence of ‘unidentified sugars’ within the fabric of some of these vessels. These sugars might be maltose.
Thousands of charred cereal grains were found at the site of a large timber hall at Balbridie, Kincardine, dated to the
early 4th millennium BC (Fairweather & Ralston 1993). Charred grain was also found at the site of a rectangular timber
building at Lismore Fields, Buxton (Garton 1987). These finds and the cereal based residues described above are an indication
of grain processing, perhaps for the manufacture of malts and ale, during the early Neolithic in the British Isles.
The possibility that grain processing activities during the early Neolithic of the British Isles included malting,
mashing and fermentation should be considered and further investigated. Ian Hodder (1997:695) has argued for a
destabilisation of ‘taken-for-granted’ assumptions in the interpretation of archaeological data and for the need to look at
material culture assemblages as a complete whole. This multidisciplinary research and the subsequent interpretation of
Neolithic grain processing techniques take this approach.
Brewing is “one of the oldest biotechnological processes of all” (Kretschmer 1996) requiring skill as well as
specialised knowledge. Each stage of the process requires very specific and different conditions. In prehistory, the
transformation of grain into malts and ale was very likely to have been an important social, symbolic and economic activity, as
well as being a specialised and skilled craft that was passed on from one generation to the next. Malting, mashing and brewing
have a great potential for apprenticeships, for the creation of social hierarchies and status and for the possession of secret or
specialised knowledge. These grain-processing activities may also have been extremely significant in terms of both ritual and
Andrew Sherratt has investigated and discussed the possibilities that drugs, such as cannabis and opium poppy seeds,
were consumed in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, perhaps as ritual or specialist activities (Sherratt 1991, 1995). Ale is also an
intoxicant and a great deal of evidence exists for its manufacture and consumption during the Neolithic. There is also some
tentative evidence for the ale to have been enhanced, at times, with psychoactive drugs such as Henbane and Deadly
Nightshade although there is some contention and debate surrounding this issue (Long et al 1999). Whether or not alcoholic
brews were enhanced with such additives is difficult to prove.
Malting and brewing in prehistory
In order to recognise the extant archaeological evidence for malting, mashing and fermentation it is helpful to
understand the basics of the biochemistry as well as the methods and techniques of grain processing for malt sugars and ale.
Chapter One examines the specific craft skills of the maltster and the brewer. Chapter Two examines some of the traditional
and ancient use of herbal additives that preserve, flavour or strengthen the ale. The archaeological evidence for malting,
mashing and brewing activity in the Levant, in the Near East and in Egypt is assessed in Chapter Three. Chapter Four assesses
this evidence with respect to the European early Neolithic and Chapter Five examines the stone buildings of Neolithic Orkney
in terms of grain storage and processing activities. Chapter Six investigates whether the Grooved Ware Culture of mainland
Britain had a suitable material culture to make malt and ale from the barley grain that they grew.
Research for this thesis initially began with the Bronze Age of the British Isles. The original intention was to
investigate the manufacturing techniques of Bronze Age brewers. However, barley has been cultivated in Britain since the
early 4th millennium BC (Ashmore 1996). The focus of research soon turned to the Neolithic of the British Isles. In order to
place British Neolithic grain cultivation and processing techniques into context it was necessary to look at the earliest
development of cereal cultivation in the Near East, the Levant and Europe. The remit of this thesis has changed considerably as
it has developed.
The Neolithic extends from the 9th/8th millennia BC in the Levant and Near East to the 4th/3rd millennia BC in the
British Isles. This thesis covers a wide geographical area and an extensive timescale. It has not been possible to investigate
every area in detail. Therefore selective sites have been chosen for analysis. This is an initial investigation into the possibilities
for malting, mashing and brewing during the Neolithic.
CHAPTER ONE: The Conversion of Grain into Malt and Ale
Although people have been making fermented alcoholic drinks for millennia, it was only in the 19th Century that the
scientific explanations for malting, mashing and fermentation were discovered. Yeast cells, responsible for the “enigma of
fermentation” (McGee 1984:426), were first seen under the microscope in the mid 1830s. Two scientists, separately, observed
the individual yeast cells splitting under the microscope: Theodor Schwann published his findings of the “new cell theory” in
1837 and Charles Caignard de la Tour had reported his observations a year earlier, in 1836.
In the 1850s Louis Pasteur (1822-1895) was asked by a Lille brewery to investigate the reasons for the spoiling of
wine and beer, a serious problem that was costing the company many thousands of pounds. The science of Microbiology was a
development of his groundbreaking investigations into the causes of fermentation and disease. Pasteur argued that yeast was a
living organism that caused fermentation by chemical reaction (Conant 1952:22). His innovative research was continued by
John Tyndall (1820-1893) who, when addressing the Glasgow Science Lectures Association in 1876, pointed out that “until
the present year no thorough and scientific account was ever given of the agencies which come into play in the manufacture of
beer, or the conditions necessary to its health, and of the maladies and vicissitudes to which it is subject” (Conant 1952:37).
Tyndall observed brewers’ general practice of always excluding the air during the fermentation process. They used
closed barrels or kept a lid or other suitable cover on the fermentation bucket. He knew that beer wort could ferment naturally
in contact with ‘common air’, but that the product of this kind of fermentation was usually sour, extremely unpleasant and
disagreeable to drink. His experiments, based on this knowledge from his observations, showed that only under anaerobic
conditions, does the yeast plant “decompose the sugar of the solution in which it grows, produce heat, breathe forth carbonic
gas and one of the liquid products of the decomposition is our familiar alcohol” (Tyndall in Conant 1952:41).
42cm / 17 inches
45cm / 18 inches
45 litres / 10 gallons
26cm / 10 inches
28cm / 11 inches
11 litres / 2.5 gallons
Simple equipment can be used to ferment sweet barley wort. The wort is fermented in a brewing bucket with a lid and a
smaller bucket is used for the transference of liquids. A lid keeps the airborne contaminants out of the brew and also creates
the necessary anaerobic conditions for alcoholic fermentation (after Line 1980:164). Scale 1:10
58cm / 23 inches
55cm / 22 inches
115 litres / 25 gallons
36 cm / 14 inches
36 cm / 14 inches
32 litres / 7 gallons
Figure 1.2: Approximate dimensions and volumes of Grooved Ware vessels represented by sherds found at the 5000 year old
Neolithic settlement at Skara Brae, Sandwick, Orkney (after Clarke 1976b). Scale 1:10
Anaerobic conditions are simple for the domestic brewer to achieve: beer or ale can be successfully fermented in a
bucket with a lid. The carbon dioxide exhaled by the yeast plant is held, in concentration, as a layer above the fermenting wort,
thus creating suitable conditions for alcoholic fermentation. A lid also prevents dust particles and bacteria from infecting the
brew (figure 1.1).
Very large bucket-shaped Grooved Ware pottery vessels were found at Skara Brae. The sherds of one pot indicated
that it might have measured 2 feet in diameter and 2 feet in depth, therefore having a volume of about 30 gallons (figure 1.2).
This would have been a suitable vessel for the fermentation of a barley wort, provided that a lid was used to create the
anaerobic conditions necessary for an alcoholic fermentation. Circular stone pot lids, suitable in size and shape, were found at
Skara Brae, Orkney.
Pasteur’s experiments into the causes of disease and fermentation provided a scientific explanation of the necessity
for cleanliness and meticulous hygiene during the brewing process. Microscopes revealed the presence of bacteria and
microbes that could be airborne in dust and that were capable of spoiling beer and other foodstuffs, such as milk and meat. By
using dust-free chambers he demonstrated the existence of what he termed “the ferments of disease,” microbes which sour the
brew and infect food (Pasteur 1879). Cleanliness of all equipment is of paramount importance in brewing. Tyndall explained
why an alcoholic fermentation could only take place when anaerobic conditions were present.
These ideas of hygiene and microbiology are now accepted but when presented to the scientific community of the late
19th century, they were contentious and controversial concepts. The scientific community of the time believed that bacteria
and microorganisms were the result of ‘spontaneous generation’. Tyndall made a convincing case for the then new and
revolutionary hypothesis that fermentation was the result of the activity of micro-organisms rather than a spontaneous,
mysterious and almost magical process, as had been believed previously.
The manufacture of an alcoholic drink from grain is a specialised craft that requires knowledge, experience and skill.
Julian Thomas describes ritual as being “a form of human action which may involve a range of forms of material culture”
(Thomas 1996:8). The conversion of the barley grain into malts and ale is precisely such an activity. It requires a specific
sequence of activities that lends itself to Thomas’ definition of ritual. Brewing is an important aspect of history and prehistory
and it is one that can be described accurately as a domestic ritual activity.
It is essential to understand the methods and techniques of the prehistoric maltster and brewer, for so long shrouded in
mystery and secrecy, so that it is possible to recognise and interpret what is left in the archaeological record. For example, a
quern or rubbing stone is usually interpreted as a tool only used for grinding grain into flour to make bread. It is equally
efficient as a tool for crushing and cracking the malted grain for the better release of malt sugars when mashing.
A threshing or malting floor can be made of level clay or earth within a building, with frequent repair being an
indication of it being used as a grain preparation surface. Large vessels are required to contain the wort as it ferments and lids
create the necessary anaerobic conditions.
1. The techniques and biochemistry of brewing
The craft of brewing is dictated by the biochemistry. The processing required to convert grain into ale is actually a
sequence of three biochemical reactions, each requiring its own quite specific conditions. Malting renders the grain friable and
much easier to grind. When mashed, the malted grain produces sweet ‘cakes’ or a sweet barley mash and a malt liquid that are
rich in B-vitamins and an excellent food source. More sweet liquid (wort) can be washed (sparged) out of the barley mash,
boiled up with herbs as flavourings or preservatives and fermented to produce alcoholic liquor.
This section examines in detail how the sweet malts and ale are made from barley grain and what conditions and
material equipment are needed to achieve this. Historical descriptions of processes are relevant, since the techniques are based
on the same unchanging biochemistry since earliest times. There are some archaeological examples from later prehistory that
illustrate the basic methods employed. Practical experiments in mashing and fermentation, using appropriate equipment, were
carried out in order to properly assess the possibility that early Neolithic cultures were converting grain into malts and ale.
a) Malting: the controlled germination of grain.
Unprocessed barley is unsuitable for brewing because it contains only starch, which cannot be fermented. In order to
make alcohol, this starch must be first converted into sugars that can then be fermented. This process begins with the
germination of the barley grain (Line 1980:118). Grain is steeped in water for several days to trigger the growth mechanism.
The water must be changed regularly in order to prevent spoilage of the grain and to provide oxygen. A simple and effective
method of doing this is to put the grain in a sack and leave it in a stream for two or three days (Flett, H. pers comm). If a
stream is not available and the grain is to be steeped in a vessel, then the water must be changed daily to maintain the freshness
of the grain. After this, the grain is spread out in a layer 4-6 inches deep on the malting floor and regularly raked, turned and
tended. It must be kept in a warm, dark environment so that the grain produces a rootlet and a shoot, known together as the
acrospire, and as the grain grows the starch is converted into malt flour.
These changes are triggered by enzymes, molecules that living cells use to transform other molecules (McGee
1984:426). The enzymatic process is a complex one. There are many different enzymes that are activated by germination and
which carry out specific functions within the grain, for example, cytase, proteolase and amylase. (Line 1980:119). Maltsters
today control the malting process with precision, allowing the seedling to grow until the acrospire is about two-thirds the
length of the grain. Current techniques involve spreading “a six inch layer of barley on the floor of a large room, where it can
be easily raked to keep it aerated and moist but not wet” (McGee 1984:471).
Ancient malting techniques were exactly the same, with the barley grain being spread out on a malting floor,
preferably within a dimly lit building that would provide shelter from the elements and protection from birds and animals. The
grain was watered and raked at regular intervals to prevent the grain from drying out or moulds from developing on grain that
became too wet. Close observation and care of the grain’s growth are essential at this stage. In the ‘Hymn to Ninkasi’, an
ancient Sumerian hymn of praise to the Goddess of Brewing that is dated to the mid 2nd millennium BC, mention is made of
watering the malt and of the ‘noble dogs’ guarding the precious malt and keeping away ‘even the potentates’ (Katz & Maytag
According to descriptions of the 9th century AD, Ireland, malt takes between 12 and 15 days to produce. The process
involves 24 hours of steeping, 36 hours draining, four and a half days under cover and three days lying exposed until “it is
heaped up in piles, then raked or combed into ridges before being finally dried in a kiln” (Comey 1996:21). Variations occur
according to local climate and season.
A malting floor is a level surface that may be made of beaten earth, clay, plaster, stone or wood. Shelter from the
elements and protection from domestic and wild animals are essential since the malt is an attractive food source. Over years of
use, the floor would require repair, being re-plastered if made of plaster, or the addition of newly packed layers of earth or
clay, if that was its original base.
b) Kilning the malt
If grain is allowed to grow unchecked then the starch will be used up, so the grain must be dried out or kilned. This
terminates germination and dries the malt so that it can be stored until needed (Line 1980:120). Dry malt keeps well. Malted
grain is easier to grind than unmalted. For the mashing and fermentation experiments, described below, pale crushed malt
purchased from brewing suppliers was used. In later experiments, it was possible to use Bere Malt that had been grown on
Orkney and malted by Harry Flett at the Corrigall Farm Museum (figure 1.3). Bere barley is now only grown in a few fields in
Scotland and Orkney, although it is slowly re-gaining its popularity. The Bere barley grain was malted in a barn on an earth
malting floor that is over 200 years old and, according to Harry Flett, in need of some repair and attention. The surface was
broken and it needed to be smoother to allow for raking and turning the malt.
The Grain Barn at the Corrigall Farm Museum, Orkney
The grain barn at the Corrigall Farm Museum is a stone building with a flagstone and turf roof. It was built around
200 years ago and is still used today. It is a building with many functions including the storage and repair of tools and farm
equipment as well as the threshing, winnowing, malting, kilning and storage of grain.
The grain could be winnowed between the two opposing doorways, making use of the through draft created by the
wind (Harry Flett pers comm). The grain is threshed, winnowed and then malted on the earth floor before being spread out to
dry in the kilning area that is constructed at the rear of the barn (figure 1.4). The kiln has a drying area above and to the right of
it, not directly above the flames and heat, accessible by two stone steps built in the wall and just visible in the photograph. The
malted grain is spread out on hay or straw that is laid over some chicken wire. It dries gently in the warm airflow from the
kiln.See pictures on the next page.
Inside the grain barn at the Corrigall Farm Museum, Harray, Orkney. Bere barley used in experimental mashing work was
malted on this floor by Harry Flett, a curator of the museum. The 200-year-old malting floor is made of beaten earth. The
grain drying facilities can be seen at the far end of the barn with the kiln on the left and the grain drying area accessed by
stone steps, to the right.
Rough ground plan of the 200-year-old grain barn at the Corrigal Farm Museum, Harray, Orkney (not drawn to scale).
Iron Age malting
Evidence for Iron Age malting has been found at Eberdingen-Hochdorf in southwest Germany, where remains of a
brewery dated to between 600 and 400 BC have been excavated (Stika 1996:81). Here, malted grain was dried on a lattice of
sticks laid over pits with fires being lit beneath, the grain drying gently in the hot air (figures 1.5,1.6). The unusual preservation
of “weakly but evenly germinated charred barley grains, enough to indicate malting,” was discovered in 6 long U-shaped
ditches that were 5-6m long, 0.6m wide and 1m deep. Wooden boards supported the sides of the trenches. Fires lit at the ends
of the trenches allowed the malt to be gently dried after germination. It appears that the fire became out of control and burnt
the entire contents of the trench. According to the excavator the germination was deliberate and controlled, the grain had been
threshed and cleaned prior to germination and all the evidence points to malting and drying of the malt, a necessary precursor
to ale production.
Malted grain is spread
on straw over a lattice of
chicken wire to dry in
warm air from the kiln in
the grain dryer
Threshing / malting floor
For tools and equipment
The excavated remains of the U-shaped
ditch at Eberdingen-Hochdorf, N.
Germany, which was used for drying the
malt. It was 5-6m long, 0.6m wide and 1m
deep with wooden boards to support the
walls. Within the pit was a structure of
dried mud bricks and a wooden frame,
which may have been covered with textiles
or reeds. The malt was spread out on this
and dried in warm air generated by a fire
at one end of the pit. An accident
probably caused the destruction of this
kilning pit which contained burned mud
bricks, charcoal and charred grain. (Stika
Carbonised malt from the pit at
Eberdingen-Hochdorf. The remains of the
burned wooden lattice support are visible
among the malted grains. (Stika 1996:67)
Zosimus, writing in the late 3rd or early 4th century AD, explained that in hot dry climates malt can be dried in the sun, provided
that it is protected from being eaten by birds (Lucas 1962:14), hence the guardianship of the malted grain by dogs in the Hymn
to Ninkasi as discussed earlier. Traditional malt drying methods in Scotland, perhaps dating back into prehistory, include
rolling hot stones in the germinated barley or drying malt on hot flat stones by a fire. (S.E.A.). Dried malted grain is friable and
contains starch, malt flour, maltose and dormant starch-converting enzymes.
c) Mashing: the conversion of starches into malt sugars.
Crushing the malt prior to mashing is crucial. This allows the enzymes to intermingle with the starchy endosperm and
there is a better conversion of starch to malt sugars during the mash. This crushing naturally produces malt flour.
The crushed malted grain is mashed so that all the starches are converted into sugars, a process known as
saccharification. Modern and medieval techniques of mashing involve ‘striking’ the malt with hot, almost boiling water to
achieve a final temperature of between 65 and 67 degrees Centigrade. Temperature is critical at this point. If the water is too
hot the starch converting enzymes will be killed. Too cool a temperature and the enzymes will not re-activate optimally.
From Iron Age times onwards mash tuns constructed of wooden staves have been used. Once the technology of
making stave-built containers had been mastered it was possible to make very large buckets and barrels. Prior to this, wooden
vessels had to be carved out of solid wood, thus limiting the potential size (Earwood 1993). An interesting method of putting
hot stones into wooden mash tuns continues today, as in the manufacture of Steinbier or Stonebeer (Kretschmer 1998). The hot
stones heat up the barley mash slowly and saccharification takes between 3 and 5 hours, provided that the temperature never
becomes too hot to kill off the enzymes.
Slavomil Vencl (1994) describes archaic practices of mashing barley malt that have been preserved in Europe until
recent times: “… the technique of brewing in wooden vessels with the aid of fire-heated stones is a relict, not an abberration
(Maurizio 1927:26). In Carinthia, this century, stones were heated in a fire of cherry wood (to add flavour to the liquid) and
water with malt was heated in this way until it caramelised (Hopf and Wiegelmann 1976:532).” (Vencl 1994:310). Such an
activity would leave few archaeological traces, requiring only a wooden vessel, a fire, stones, water and malted barley. Malting
and then mashing barley and other grains to extract the sugars, using either wooden or pottery bowls, was probably one of the
earliest grain processing techniques practiced in prehistory.
During mashing, the enzymes act as a catalyst to bring about a chemical reaction that reduces the remaining grain
starch to fermentable sugars. Diastase converts the starch into a mixture of sugars grouped as dextrins and maltose, with the
dextrins being less fermentable. Diastase is actually a grouping of two separate enzymes: alpha and beta amylase. Enzymes
respond to the temperature and acidity of the mash differently.
Alpha amylase converts starch into dextrins and is tolerant of higher temperatures than beta amylase, which converts the
dextrins into maltose (Line 1980:125/6).This is the magic of the grain. It can be converted into fermentable sugars. Grapes
have natural sugars; honey can also be fermented. With grain, however, the grain starch must be converted into malt sugars
before fermentation can take place. Flowers are used as additives and flavourings only – they do not ferment.Flowers do not
contain sugars. Mashing is complex in terms of enzyme activity but it is very simple to do. Egyptian and Sumerian brewers
made bappir, a kind of flat barley ‘cake’ or ‘bread’ (Samuel 1995). The slow rising temperature activates the enzymes, which
convert all the remaining grain starch into sugars within the first few hours. Bappir store extremely well, if kept dry.
In the first experiments I used Fawcett’s pale crushed malted barley, purchased from a home brewers’ suppliers. In
later experiments I used Bere malt that was grown and floor malted by Harry Flett, curator of the Corrigall Farm Museum,
Harray, Orkney. The crushed and malted barley was mixed with copious amounts of water in a waterproofed pottery bowl and
heated gently in the warm ashes of a fire (figure 1.9). The bowls that were used had been proofed with beeswax, which seals
the porous fabric of the pot and makes it watertight.
Great care was needed to ensure that the enzymes were not killed. This involved constant observation of the mash and
the regular monitoring of its temperature. The temperature of the mash was checked using a brewing thermometer and also
checking by touch. The correct ‘feel’ for the temperature for best saccharification was soon learnt, and there was no need for a
thermometer. The optimum temperature for the enzymes to convert starch into sugars is between 65 and 67 degrees Centigrade
Pale crushed malt and water were combined to make a fairly stiff mixture for the barley ‘cakes’. These were then
placed on a hot flat stone to cook. They needed to be kept moist, as they dried out quickly and the enzymes require moisture to
work. It was also necessary to keep the fire burning fairly fiercely, to provide a constant supply of hot ashes to keep the mash
temperature correct and the flat stone hot. At times, the mash became too hot and had to be taken out of the fire. It soon
became apparent that the hearth was a little too small for mashing in this way (figures 1.10, 1.11). Nevertheless, the mash
sweetened as the gentle heating progressed. After about an hour the saccharification could be seen, smelt and tasted in the bowl
mash, the mixture turning brown and some of the malt becoming caramelised and burnt onto the side of the pottery bowl.
The liquid was tasted regularly. It began to taste sweet after about an hour and it became increasingly darker, sweeter
and stickier as the mashing progressed. The barley ‘cakes’ were much slower to saccharify, as it was difficult to maintain a
high temperature of the stone without over-heating the barley mash in the bowl.
In subsequent experiments, a larger hearth made entirely with flat stones was constructed, based on those found at
Neolithic settlements on Orkney (figure 1.11). This was a far more functional hearth than the earlier one used. It was much
easier to run a fire and to cook at the same time in a hearth of this size. The cooking area was far enough away from the area
where the fire was allowed to blaze, providing hot ashes but, critically, not overheating the mash. The stones by the blazing
fire became very hot, radiating heat when the fire had been running for some hours. They proved to be excellent for making
barley ‘cakes’. It was not difficult to imagine the potential heating capacity by radiation of these stones should a fire be kept
going in the hearth over several weeks, months or years, as was the case at Skara Brae in Neolithic times.
Given that about five pounds of barley mash were needed to make the two gallons of wort for later fermenting, it was
not practical to mash these large amounts over an open fire. As a practical expedient, I used the domestic oven. The pale
crushed malt was mixed with water and placed in cup-cake trays in a very, very low oven for several hours. This guaranteed a
slow rising temperature for a good conversion by the enzymes of grain starches into sugars. There was a sweet and powerful
aroma when the correct temperature for saccharification had been reached, the same aroma as noted when mashing over the
open fire and when the barley malt is ‘struck’ with hot water using modern wet mashing techniques.
After oven mashing, the result was a dark brown, sometimes caramelised and crisp mix of barley husks and malt
sugars (figure 1.12). Because the temperature was more precisely controlled, the conversion was excellent, with strong caramel
flavours and some burnt grains. The mixture tasted very sweet and was extremely sticky to handle.
The mash was stored in every large, deep vessel available in the house and it was kept covered to avoid contamination
whilst the later batches were being made. It took several days of oven mashing to produce the five pounds of mash needed for
two gallons of wort. When the mash was left to stand, it was noticed that a quantity of pure malt liquid, very dark brown in
colour and tasting very sweet, had filtered through the barley husks to the bottom of the container (figure 1.13). This malt
liquid was sweet and delicious. It is a useful and nutritious end product of malted and mashed grain and it contains easily
Photographs have been included of the mashing experiments that I did in 1998. One of the particular aims of
including these colour photographs is to demonstrate the dramatic change from a pale, white, starchy mixture of malted barley
and water to a dark brown, sweet-tasting and caramelised mashed barley mixture with malt liquid. This transformation is easily
achieved over the gentle warmth of hot ashes or, alternatively, in a low oven. As a novice at this I struggled to maintain the
fire, to provide sufficient hot ashes and to monitor the temperature of the barley mash, all at the same time. In the past, grain
processing would probably not have been a solitary task. In my experiments it became clear that any attempt to make large
amounts of barley mash, sufficient for several gallons of ale to be produced, would have involved a group of people working
together. In the experiments, approximately five pounds of malted barley was mashed to produce about two gallons of sweet
wort for fermentation. The process took several days. The next section explains how the sweet liquid wort is extracted from the
mash, leaving ‘spent grain’, which is used as animal fodder.
d) Obtaining a sweet wort for fermentation
It is easy to rinse out more of the sweet and sticky malt liquid from the barley mash, a practice known in the brewing
trade as sparging, with the product being the wort (figure 1.14). Hot water is used since “sugar, when in solution, will flow
much more easily and readily when it is hot. Sweet wort is no exception, and the whole theory of sparging is based on this
principle...the husks act as a filter.” (Line, 1980:141ff). Usually, the amount of water used to sparge is approximately equal to
the desired gallonage of beer.
In my experiments, hot water was trickled through the mash using a basket-sieve over a large container. This is the
method depicted in Egyptian brewing scenes of the 3rd millennium BC (figure 1.8). The method worked well, but was a very
slow and extremely sticky and messy business. Modern methods and equipment were used, specifically a grain bag, two plastic
buckets and a plastic syphon tube (figure 1.7). Two gallons of sweet wort was thus obtained. The grain and chaff eventually
settled out to the bottom of the bucket, and further careful pouring eliminated much of this chaff from the wort until a clear
liquid was obtained for fermentation. Syphons may be practical solution, plastic ones being used in my experiments. In a
prehistoric context, reeds might function well. Holes and spigots at the base of vessels would also work very well but there
would probably be a lot of spillage of the wort.
McGee (1984:474) notes that “fully 85% of the carbohydrate in malt was starch while in the liquid wort 70% is now
in the form of various sugars: small amounts of glucose, fructose, some 3-sugar remnants of starch and about 40% maltose, or
two-glucose molecules”. The wort is very sticky indeed, and the photographs give a slight indication of the sticky mess that
always accompanies the handling or transferring of the wort from one vessel to another. Vessels and equipment require
constant washing. Access to a nearby water supply and to drains is crucial for processing grain in this way.
Sparging the wort using a grain bag, bucket, table and syphon. Wort is collected and allowed to settle before the next stage.
Egyptian maltsters, mashers and brewers c1500 BC from a painting on the wall of a Theban tomb. The processes of raking the
malt, making bappir, sparging and fermentation can be seen (Singer 1980: figure 180).
The next pages show mashing experiments done as part of this research between 1995 and 1997. Initially experimental, these
demonstrations have been repeated many times since. The technique always works, provided that the ritual is adhered to. Any
grain can be malted and mashed. Any container can be used. Any source of heat can be used to heat the mash. Quinn and
Moore demonstrated the use of fire heated rocks to heat the mash in wooden troughs, proving that Fulacht Fiadh or Burnt
Mounds were sites for mashing and brewing. See http://www.mooregroup.ie/2007/10/the-archaeology-ireland-article/
Hot water is
barley mash that
is held in a grain
Malt sugars are washed
out of the mash and the
wort can be syphoned
into a clean vessel
Mashing experiments using crushed malted barley. Summer 1995.
Pale crushed malted barley was mixed with abundant water in a bowl that had been waterproofed with beeswax. The bowl was
then placed in the hot ashes of an open fire. Initially, at this stage, the liquid was opaque and white, showing it to be starchy at
this stage prior to the mashing. The malted barley was very pale brown in colour.
As the malt and water gently heats up the enzymes within the grain re-activate and continue the conversion of starch into
sugars. Saccharification is indicated by the darkening of the barley mash and at this stage there is a powerful aroma that is
strong and sweet. The mash changes in colour and it gradually becomes dark brown and tastes sweet after 15-30 minutes.
Some of the malt becomes carbonised. The mixture that had been placed on the hot stone needed to be constantly wet for the
saccharification to occur.
Figure 1.11 Figure 1.12
The larger rectangular hearth based on Orcadian
Neolithic hearths excavated at Skara Brae and Rinyo.
Three bowls, one containing crushed malted barley and two with
sweet barley mash, showing the contrast in colour.
Pure, sweet malt liquid has filtered through the mash and husks to collect at the bottom
of the vessel used for temporary storage of the barley mash. This malt liquid is highly
nutritious, being rich in B-Vitamins. It can be used in several ways. If added to milk it
makes a delicious malted milk drink, just like Horlicks. It can be added to other foods or
dishes as a sweetener. The mash can also be sparged using hot water to extract more
malt sugars (the wort) that can be fermented into ale.
More wort can be collected by sparging the mash
with hot water. This involves running hot water
slowly through the mash and collecting the run
off in a bucket. This illustration shows the wort
when first extracted and after one hour, having
been left to settle. The cloudy mixture settles out,
leaving clear sweet malt liquid (wort) at the top
and chaff and other bits at the bottom of the
vessel. After settling the wort can be transferred
into a clean vessel, then boiled with the desired
additives for flavour and preservation and then,
finally, it is fermented. This is an extremely sticky
and messy business. All equipment must be
washed to prevent contamination of subsequent
brews. Cleanliness of equipment is crucial.
e) Boiling the wort with flavourings and preservatives.
Boiling the wort kills the enzymes that are still active and which, if left unchecked, will spoil the ale (Line 1980:157).
It also sterilises the wort and it precipitates out proteins that affect the flavour and storage of the beer or ale. Herbs that are
added to the boil can either add flavour to the brew and or they can act as a preservative. Hops, cultivated in Europe since the
eighth or ninth centuries AD, perform both these functions but in prehistoric times other herbs were used, such as Bog Myrtle,
Ground Ivy and Meadowsweet (Mabey 1996:64,317). Aspects of the use, the purposes and properties of a selection of herbal
additives to ale other than hops is examined in Chapter Two.
Meadowsweet pollen was found in significant quantities in the residues of the Strathallan Beaker and those found in
the Ashgrove Beaker (Barclay et al 1983, Dickson 1978) and so it was decided to use this particular flower as an additive in
these brewing experiments (figures 1.16,1.17). Meadowsweet requires boggy and damp conditions to thrive and it is frequently
found growing along ditches, by lakes and streams and in wet meadowland. Meadowsweet flowerheads were gathered on
Orkney, where it grows profusely, and were dried for use in these experiments. Some was gathered at Loch Harray, close by
the Neolithic settlement at Barnhouse and the Stones of Stenness. The meadowsweet was a very well established plant there,
with thick, tough, woody stems that required cutting with a knife. Care was taken not to take too much meadowsweet from any
one area and so it was gathered, in small amounts, at a number of different locations on mainland Orkney. It propagates by the
root system; the different flowerheads being part of the same plant. Picking the flowers does not prevent the plant from
thriving (figure 2.3).
In order to properly assess its flavouring qualities, two separate brews were made from a batch of malt liquid obtained
by oven mashing and sparging. In one brew of about a gallon, a fifth of an ounce of dried meadowsweet flowerheads was
added during the boil. A second brew, also of about a gallon was boiled but no herbs at all were added. Both were fermented in
glass demijohns with fermentation locks and, when fermentation was complete, were stored in plastic bottles as a practical
expedient, although fermentation in pottery vessels with a suitable lid is a possibility and will be done in future experiments.
It is essential to seal the porous fabric of the pot with either beeswax or fats to prevent the contents leaching out
through the walls of the vessel during fermentation. Experiments in this area are ongoing.
After one week, the brew without any dried meadowsweet flowers added to the boil had become sour, very nasty and
undrinkable. The brew that had been boiled with added meadowsweet flowers remained fresh enough to drink for several
f) Fermentation: the conversion of sugars into alcohol.
There are several ways that yeast can be introduced to the wort. Wild yeasts exist in the air, as noted by Pasteur and
Tyndall. In Belgium today, lambic beers are fermented using wild yeasts alone, a relict perhaps of ancient practices.
Alternatively, a yeast culture can be kept alive and used when needed, as modern breweries do today. Suitable yeast cultures
for brewing may have been cultivated and kept ‘alive’ in prehistory. Yeast can survive, in a dried state, on the surface of
pottery vessels. For example, in Egypt, such residues dating to the 2nd millennium BC have been found and examined using a
scanning electron microscope (Samuel 1995,1996).
It is most unlikely that such residues have survived in Northern Europe and the British Isles as they have in the dry
climate of Egypt. The addition of sweet wort to a pot with yeast residues dried on to its internal surface would have the effect
of activating the yeast and fermentation would then begin, as if by magic. Yeast requires a temperature of between 55-70
degrees Fahrenheit, but it metabolises best at around 60 degrees. The yeast action splits the sugar into alcohol and carbon
dioxide gas. (Line 1980:164). Anaerobic conditions are necessary for alcoholic fermentation, the alcohol being a ‘waste
product’ of the yeast, which is forced to survive by using the sugars as a source of energy:
C6H12O62C2H5OH + 2CO2+ Energy
Glucose Alcohol Carbon
Energy is a by-product of the biochemical process. The fermenting wort appears to boil and creates its own warmth in
the absence of a fire. Although the biochemistry of yeast activity is a new discovery, its effects are clearly visible. At first, the
bubbles of carbon dioxide rise up slowly, but as the yeast action increases over time, the mixture appears to boil. According to
David Line “after 12-24 hours the yeast crop can look quite frightening. Long meringue-like tentacles of yeast reach out from
the surface of the brew, some reaching 6-8” in length. The contents of the dustbin look more like a Quatermass experiment
than beer in the making” (Line 1980:163). This subsides after 8 hours and over the next 3-4 days the fermentation quietens
down and is less spectacular.
The size of the fermentation vessel used depends upon the amount of wort to be fermented. The experiments in
mashing and sparging produced small volumes of wort, therefore one gallon demijohns had to be used, together with airlocks.
Larger quantities of wort could be easily fermented in buckets with lids (figure 1.1). The meadowsweet ale obtained from these
experiments was a clear, dark reddish-brown in colour, with a flavour of meadowsweet. Very few adverse comments have
been received from the tasters.
Meadowsweet Ale has been made for the Manchester University Archaeology Society to sample in December 1997
and some was made for the Neolithic Studies Group Meeting in March 1998. Some is still keeping well, in plastic bottles in a
cool cellar. To leave the ale in contact with the yeasty sediment would soon taint it, so, when fermentation is finished, the ale
must be either syphoned off or carefully poured into a clean vessel for consumption or storage. This process is referred to as
‘racking off’ the ale. Plastic syphon tubes were used to syphon the ale made as part of this research into clean plastic bottles.
As noted earlier, reeds would probably work efficiently as syphon tubes, but experiments in this have not yet been tried.
The residues that accumulate at the bottom of fermenting vessels differ from barley mash residues, known as ‘spent
grain’ or from residues resulting from sparging the wort, in that they also contain pollen and macro plant debris from the herbs
added as flavourings or preservatives during the boil. Therefore, organic residues that are described as ‘barley mash with added
herbs or flavourings’ probably represent the residues of a fermented drink, either manufactured or stored in that vessel.
Once the sugars have been washed out, little would remain of the ‘spent’ barley mash. It makes an excellent feed for
both cattle and pigs and it is not a waste product that would remain in the archaeological record.
2. Necessary materials and equipment
Barley and wheat are versatile crops that can be processed in several ways to make flour, bread, porridge, malts and
ale. Most of the literature assumes grain to be a source of carbohydrate in the diet and that it was grown as a staple food for its
flour, porridge and breadmaking potential. The fact that grain can easily and with a minimum of equipment also be processed
to extract sweet malts has been overlooked. Grain was probably processed in a variety of different ways in prehistory.
This research concentrates specifically upon the potential in the early Neolithic for the manufacture of sweet malts
and ale from barley and wheat. The basic requirements for malt and ale production are grain, water, large vessels, fuel and
yeast, if the malt is to be fermented. All types of grains can be used such as wheat, barley, oats and rye (Vencl 1994:307).
Slavomil Vencl’s analysis of the basic requirements for brewing can be expanded upon in the light of evidence from this
chapter. A malting floor, made simply from earth, clay, wood or stone is needed. Shelter and protection from the elements and
from birds and beasts, in the form of a roofed and enclosed structure, is another very important factor. Hearths, ovens or kilns
are necessary for drying out and for mashing the malted grain (figure 1.15).
Access to a nearby water supply is essential for washing the used sticky pottery vessels and also for sparging, in
which the sugars are washed out of the mashed barley using heated water. Cleanliness is crucial to brewing and a strong source
for ritual behaviour. Suitable pottery is required, both large and small vessels for storage, for fermentation and for drinking
Without doubt one of the most crucial aspects of brewing is the skill and knowledge of both the maltster and the
brewer in processing the grain correctly in order to make a successful brew.
Grain Most grains are suitable, for example, wheat, barley or rye.
A malting floor Smooth, level floor of beaten earth, clay, plaster, wood or stone.
A barn The malting floor should be situated in a dark, well-ventilated building to maintain an even
temperature and to protect the germinating grain (the malt) from the elements, birds and beasts.
Water Mashing and fermentation require copious amounts of water. All equipment needs to be kept
scrupulously clean to avoid contamination of the product.
Drains Useful for transporting waste water out of the building.
Kiln, oven or hearth To dry the malt and to mash the malted grain.
Containers To mash the malted grain, to ferment the mash and to store the products. They may be pottery or
wood. If wooden, hot stones are necessary to heat the mash.
Cover for vessel To provide anaerobic conditions for the ferment and to exclude airborne contamination.
Sieves For the separation of the wort from the mash.
Yeast Needed to start the ferment. Can be cultivated in a pot but will survive, dried, on the internal surfaces
of the fermentation vessel or on a hazel wand, used to stir the brew.
Knowledge and skill,
With the above equipment and ingredients, it is possible to make ale from grain. The skill exists in
knowing the right way to do it.
Table showing the basic equipment required for processing grain into malt, malt sugars and ale. Knowledge, skill, practice
and experience are important factors, being as important as the materials and equipment.
Scraping from pot
Black greasy deposit
Pine (Pinus) 0.2
Birch (Betula) 0.2 0.2
Oak (Quercus) 0.4 0.2
Hazel (Corylus) 3.2 1.0
Alder (Alnus) 1.1 0.2
Heather (Ericaceae) 0.2
Ribwort (Plantago Lanceolata) 0.7 0.3
Sedges (Cyperacaea) 1.2
Grasses (Gramineae) 8.1 4.0
Hawthorn (Rosacaea) 0.2
Flax (Linum Usitatissimum) 0.2
Buttercup (Ranunculaceae) 0.4 0.9
Compositae 2.7 3.7
Meadowsweet (Filipendula) 66.6 74.1
cf Filipendula 8.1 8.0
Cereals (Cerealea) 1.4 0.3
Polypodium 0.4 0.5
Monoleet psilate-type 2.9 0.7
Indeterminate 2.7 4.9
Figure 1.16: Pollen analysis of organic ‘black greasy’ deposit and scraping from inside the Bronze Age food vessel (SF17)
found at North Mains, Strathallan, Scotland. There are relatively high values of meadowsweet pollen and this indicates its
deliberate rather than accidental addition to the contents of the pot (see Barclay et al 1983).
Figure 1.17:Pollen analysis of Ashgrove Beaker from Scotland, with very high values of lime. Heather and meadowsweet
pollen were identified in smaller quantities (see Dickson 1978). The contents of this pot were probably mead (fermented
honey) rather than ale.
Small Leaved Lime (Tilia cordata) 53.7 Scabious (Scabiosa) 0.2
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) 15.1 Grasses (Gramineae) 0.2
Heather (Calluna) 7.7 Willow (Salix) 0.2
Ribwort Plantain (Plantago
7.1 Beech (Fagus) 0.2
Mint (Labiatae) 5.1 Oak (Quercus) 0.2
Alder (Alnus) 2.8 Sphagnum +
Holly (Ilex) 2.2 Cereals +
Daisy (Compositae) 1.2 Pine (Pinus) +
Hazel (Corylus) 1.1 Birch (Betula) +
Buttercup (Ranunculaceae) 0.8 Honeysuckle (Lonicera) +
Polypody Fern (Polypodium) 0.8 Red Shank (Polygonum) +
Ferns (Filicales) 0.5 Persicaria
+ = Found On Scanning Slide
CHAPTER TWO: Additives to Preserve and Flavour Ale
1. Additives used in Medieval and Viking times
Prior to the introduction of Hops (Humulus lupulus) in late medieval times a wide variety of additives have been used
by brewers to preserve, flavour, strengthen or clarify ale. Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale), Ground Ivy (Glechmona hederacea),
Mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris) and also Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) were among the most popular and the most
commonly used herbs by medieval brewers and alewives (McGee 1984:466; Davidson 1998:154, Genders 1971:174). Hops
were introduced in Europe around the 9th century AD and in the British Isles in the 14th century.
Hops were not favourably received at first by the populace of the British Isles. Ale and beer were considered to be
separate drinks, ale being the traditional drink made with local herbs and beer being made with imported hops. The
manufacturers of both drinks maintained their separate Guilds for some time until eventually, by the 16th century, beer became
the predominant drink. Hop growers from the continent settled in Kent during the 15th and 16th centuries, founding the now
thriving Hop business there (McGee 1984).
In medieval and ancient times herbs would have been added to the wort during the boil as leaves, as fresh or dried
flower heads or as whole plants if their function was as flavouring or as preservative agents. If the clarification of a cloudy ale
was required, then they would be added to the fermented ale. The cultivation and gathering of herbs and the knowledge of
herbal properties, either medicinal or culinary, were of great importance in prehistoric and early historic times. The herb
garden was an essential part of house and home. It provided plants useful for cooking purposes as well as plants to use as
remedies for illnesses and the healing of wounds (Davidson 1998:154 ff). It is difficult to make a clear distinction between the
domestic, culinary, medicinal, ritual and functional use of herbs in the past.
Herbal remedies can be powerful and potent, even fatal, if taken incorrectly or in excess. They are certainly not risk-
free cures and the knowledge of their correct usage was and still is a complex skill. Herbal remedies are becoming increasingly
popular in the late 20th century. The Department of Complementary Medicines at Exeter University, led by Professor Edzard
Ernst, is currently undertaking research into their clinical efficacy.
In Viking and Medieval times brewing was one of the domestic responsibilities of women (Davidson 1998:138ff) and
it would be fair to assume that this was probably also the case in prehistory. It was customary for women to brew ale at home
until the middle of the 17th century AD, when the process became industrialised. Malting and brewing began to be practised on
a large scale when the very first breweries were established. Brewing ale domestically was a labour intensive business
involving much hard work. It provided women with an income and ale was often sold on by Alewives and Brewsters of the
Middle Ages (Bennett 1986, 1996).
a) Ground Ivy
In medieval times and earlier the leaves of Ground Ivy, also known as Ale-Hoof, were commonly used in ale making
(figure 2.1). The natural habitat of this herb is in woodland and beneath hedgerows, as it grows best in partial shade. It was a
commonly cultivated herb in domestic gardens and in those of wayside inns (Genders 1971:174).
Nicholas Culpepper (1616-1654), the astrologer-physician, noted that that Ground Ivy could clarify a cloudy ale ‘in a
night, that it will be fitter to be drank the next morning; or if any drink be thick with removing or any other accident, it will do
the like in a few hours.’ The herb is ‘sharp and bitter to the taste’ and it has several healing properties, for example, an infusion
‘easeth all griping pains, windy and choleric humours in the stomach, spleen or belly’ and a decoction of it ‘helpeth
wounds...ulcers...scabs, weals and other breakings out in any part of the body’ (Culpepper’s Complete Herbal).
b) Bog Myrtle
Bog Myrtle is a small shrub that grows prolifically in bogs, wet heath lands, fens and moors (figure 2.2). It is
currently found mainly in Scotland, North Wales and northwest England (Rose 1991:234) but in prehistoric and early historic
times it could probably have been found in suitable environments throughout the whole of British Isles.
The shrub “emits a resinous, balsamic fragrance, especially when in flower.... and the whole plant is still used in
brewing and cooking.... being added to home made beer by mixing the leafy branches with the hot liquid in the early stages of
beer making” (Mabey 1996:70). The leaves of the plant and the stem are covered in aromatic glands, that “release a refreshing
resinous scent when handled” (Genders 1971:129).
Mugwort is another aromatic herb that was frequently used as flavouring or medicinal additive in domestic brewing in
medieval times and earlier (Genders 1971:200; Davidson 1998:154). It was considered to be a ‘women’s herb’ being useful in
childbirth. According to Culpepper it had the effect of hastening the delivery and also helping to expel the afterbirth. It was
used extensively in home medicines, being valued in many parts of the world and it has been suggested (Armstrong 1943,
quoted in Davidson 1996:154) that it could have been one of the earliest deliberately cultivated herbs.
Meadowsweet is a tall aromatic plant that thrives in damp and boggy places, by rivers, in marshland, in meadows and
in ditches. It was regularly used in historical times to flavour and preserve mead, hence its name, a derivative of ‘mead-sweet’
(Mabey 1996:181). As described in Chapter One, the dried flower heads of this herb were used to flavour and successfully
preserve the ale that was made as part of this research. Strictly speaking, ‘ale’ should refer to fermented barley wort and
‘mead’ to fermented honey and water. However, alcoholic beverages “were often brewed with both honey and malt, and the
literature refers to these variously as mead, ale or honey ale” (Ratsch 1994:280).
Meadowsweet was also used as a strewing plant, having a ‘pretty, sharp scent’ that ‘far excels all other strewing
herbs, to deck up houses, to strew in chambers, halls and banqueting houses’ (Genders 1971:87). Culpepper notes that an
infusion of the flowers is ‘good for all fevers...and a good wound herb, whether taken inwardly or externally applied’
(Culpepper’s Modern Herbal, Foulsham edition: 230). This is due to the fact that meadowsweet contains salicylic acid, which
reduces pain and fever. It is interesting to note that herbs useful to the brewer as flavourings and preservatives also have
medicinal properties. In ancient times, women were responsible for the cultivation, gathering and preparation of herbs that
were used for many aspects of home medicine, healing and nursing of the sick and during pregnancy and childbirth. Women
were responsible for the general management of house and home, including plant cultivation and food preparation (Davidson
One of the purposes of the previous chapter was to demonstrate the potential for a ‘domestic ritual’ aspect to the craft
of brewing, that is, the necessary and essential sequence of specific actions and processes which must be adhered to. With the
customary addition of a variety of herbs to the ale, herbs that may have a medicinal or psychoactive effect, there is added a
further dimension to this ritual activity. Wise women and healers in antiquity and prehistory had the specialised herbal
knowledge and the skills of herb usage to help and to heal people within their community.
Plants with medicinal, aromatic and psychoactive properties, such as Henbane (Hyosycamus niger) and Deadly
Nightshade (Atropa belladonna) were at certain times added to ale or mead (Ratsch 1994:285). Henbane (figures 2.4, 2.5) and
Deadly Nightshade are highly poisonous plants of the Solanacae family. They have long been used for medicinal and ritual
hallucinogenic purposes. Henbane contains tropane alkaloids, specifically hyoscyamine, hyoscine and atropine. Modern
medicine still uses derivatives of Henbane for travel sickness and atropine is a useful drug in the treatment of Parkinson’s
Hyoscyamine is “a powerful hallucinogen .... which gives the sensation of flying through the air.... among many other
effects” (Devereux 1997:98). Henbane is a plant well known for its ability, when ingested in limited amounts, to induce
delusions of flying. Demented mental states, confusion and hallucinations are also effects produced by the plant when ingested.
Henbane had developed strong associations with magic and witchcraft practices by the early Middle Ages in the British Isles
and in Europe (Sherratt 1996:14). It is possible to achieve these hallucinogenic effects by inhaling the smoke given off when
the seeds are burnt, by rubbing ointment containing extract of Henbane on the skin or by drinking ale with Henbane added to
the brew (Lehane 1977:184). Sometimes herbs are added during the fermentation rather than the boil because their alkaloids
are alcohol soluble rather than water-soluble.
Henbane has a powerful, pungent aroma described as ‘a very heavy, ill, offensive smell’ by Culpepper, who was
writing in the mid 17th century (Culpepper:184). More recently it is described as the ‘unpleasant, sickly, fetid smell of dead
rats’ (Genders 1971:151). The whole plant, including the root, which looks like a parsnip, is highly poisonous. There is no
antidote. Culpepper advises that: ‘The herb must never be taken internally, it is altogether an outward medicine.’
The leaves could be applied externally to relieve headache or local swelling. The ‘oil and juice of the herb or seed’
could be used as eardrops - ‘good for deafness, noise and worms in the ears.’ A decoction of the herb or seed ‘kills lice in man
or beast.’ According to Culpepper ‘the fume of the dried herb, stalks and seeds, burned, quickly heals swellings, chilblains or
kibes in the hands and feet, by holding them in the fumes thereof.’ Gerard (1595) notes that the fumes of Henbane seeds, when
inhaled, were an effective cure for toothache. Both Gerard and Culpepper wrote of common medical practices of the late 16th
and early 17th century. Pliny associated Henbane with death and wrote that it was used in funeral meals and was scattered over
tombs (Lehane 1977:146). It must be likely that there was knowledge of these and many other herbal remedies in prehistoric
2. Archaeological evidence: herbal additives in prehistoric Europe
There is interesting archaeological evidence that indicates the probable use of Henbane as an additive to ale during the
first millennium BC. A total of 15 Henbane seeds were found in association with charred and malted barley grains at the Late
Hallstatt/Early La Tene site at Eberdingen-Hochdorf, which is situated 15 km northwest of Stuttgart and has been dated to
c500 BC. The site was interpreted by the excavator as a being brewery as well as being a settlement with special status. The
discoveries at this site are most unusual and “the extraordinary nature of beer and mead production at Eberdingen-Hochdorf
should be stressed” (Stika 1996:88).
It is clear from finds at the rich grave, close by the brewery at Hochdorf, that ale and/or mead were being
manufactured and consumed in very large quantities in Iron Age Europe, although not always with Henbane as an additive. A
huge bronze cauldron capable of containing 500 litres of liquid was found in a rich burial (Biel et al 1985). An 8-10 mm layer
of sediment at the bottom of the cauldron had “a pollen content so great that the honey, the source of the pollen, would have
sufficed to produce an alcoholic drink - mead” (ibid: 147).
The effects of Henbane ale are vividly described by the Muslim traveller and writer Ibn Fadlan, an Arab expert in
religious law (Ratsch 1994:279). In 921 AD he had been sent by the Caliph of Baghdad to instruct the people of the northern
Bulgars in the Islamic faith. In his writings, he describes the funeral ceremony of a Viking chieftain of the Rus, who were
Scandinavian merchant adventurers who regularly visited Russia to trade in furs and slaves. The chief had died at Bulgar, an
important trading centre on the banks of the Volga and funeral rites took place there for him, according to Viking traditions.
Specially brewed Henbane ale was drunk day and night by the participants until they became demented and some even drank
themselves to death (Ratsch 1994:285). This ale was called ‘nabid’ and was an intrinsic part of Viking funeral rites, together
with human and animal sacrifice (Davidson 1998:164-166).
At times, the herbal additives used in such ‘special brews’ must have been as important or perhaps even more
important than the ale itself, given their “hallucinogenic, aphrodisiac or psychoactive properties” (Ratsch 1994: 279).
The picture (left) shows Ground Ivy, a plant commonly
known as ‘ale-hoof’ (Glechmona hederacea). It is
found growing in woods, in hedgerows and on damp,
rough ground. It was used in ancient times for herbal
infusions and as a bittering agent for ale (Mabey
The picture below shows Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale)
growing in damp heath land on Hartland Moor,
Dorset. It is a shrub of the wet acid heath land and
moors of Scotland, North Wales and Northwest
England. The whole plant is used in brewing, being
added to the boil as a flavouring and as a preservative
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
in flower. It thrives in damp
riverside meadows and most other
damp and boggy places, such as
ditches and the shores of lakes. It
was much used in historical times to
flavour and to preserve mead, hence
its name, which is derived from
‘mead-sweet’. The plant flowers in
July and August. The flowers have a
rich and powerful scent, making it
excellent as a ‘strewing plant’. It
propagates by its root system, which
spreads along the ditches. It is a
tough and hardy plant that is found
in abundance in Scotland and
Orkney (Mabey 1996).
Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) has grey-green leaves densely
covered with sticky hairs. The flowers are pale yellow with purple
veins. It grows in sandy places, by the sea and sometimes on
disturbed chalk lands. This plant (left) was found growing at
Lulworth, Dorset. The hallucinatory and poisonous properties of
the plant were well known in medieval times (Mabey 1996:301)
The Henbane flower (Mabey 1996).
The food vessel from North Mains, Strathallan, with meadowsweet flowers. Traces of meadowsweet pollen were found in this
vessel together with cereal pollen and cereal-based residues. The vessel was discovered in a stone-lined Bronze Age cist that
contained a female burial (Barclay et al 1983, Clarke, Cowie and Foxon 1985:202).
CHAPTER THREE: Barley in the Levant, Ancient Near East and Egypt
1. The ‘Bread or Beer’ debate
The question whether barley and other cereal grains were cultivated for the manufacture of bread or of beer has been
an ongoing debate since 1953. Robert Braidwood of the Oriental Institute of Chicago asked whether “the discovery that a mash
of fermented grain yielded a palatable and nutritious beverage acted as a greater stimulant toward the experimental selection
and breeding of the cereals than the discovery of flour and bread making?” (Braidwood 1953:515). He was attracted to the idea
that the manufacture of beer or ale was the main motivation behind early grain domestication and he invited the opinions of
other archaeologists and anthropologists in a now famous symposium that was published in American Anthropologist.
Jonathon Sauer agreed with Braidwood’s idea that “thirst rather than hunger may have been the stimulus behind the
origin of small grain agriculture” (ibid:516). Hans Helbaek strongly disagreed, pointing out that carbonised rather than malted
grain had been found at Jarmo interpreting this as the baking of bread. Paul Mangelsdorf noted that cereals were the only
carbohydrate furnishing food source available to early Neolithic people. He felt it to be highly unlikely that “the foundation of
Western Civilisation was laid by an ill-fed people living in a state of intoxication” (ibid:520). Leo Oppenheim believed that the
quest for food, storage and the different processing techniques of that food were instrumental in the discovery of both bread
and ale (ibid: 521). This seems to be a reasonable compromise of the several arguments and it is the most likely explanation.
The probability is that bread, malt, and subsequently ale were made in the early neolithic Near East.
Zohary and Hopf point out “when charred slowly and mildly, wood, seed, nuts, and sometimes even fleshy fruits or
whole ears of cereals can still retain most of their morphological and anatomical features” (ibid:4). Such features are preserved
“with astonishing clarity”. At high temperatures carbonisation causes certain “characteristic deformations” of grain, such as
shrinkage in the length of the kernel, ‘puffing’ of the kernel around the circumference and/or cracking of the grain (ibid: 4).
Therefore it should be possible to examine the internal structure of ancient carbonised grain using scanning electron
microscopy to try to ascertain the level of heat to which it was subjected. Malting requires very gentle warmth. Archaeological
evidence of well-preserved charred grain might be indicative of malt burnt accidentally during kilning.
The debate generated by Braidwood’s symposium still continues 50 years later. Solomon Katz and Mary Voigt (1986)
have pointed out the dietary disadvantages of unprocessed wheat and barley. Unprocessed grains are not nutritious. Cereal
grains are made up mainly of carbohydrates with only 13-20% protein and very low amounts of fats, B-vitamins, minerals and
lysine. Lysine is an essential amino acid that enables the human body to process the other amino acids of the grain into
proteins. As yeast grows in ale and bread it “produces a rich source of lysine, significantly improves the B-vitamin content of
the mixture.... thereby permitting the absorption of more essential minerals such as calcium” (Katz and Voigt, 1986:30). In
short, this means that processed grain contains digestible B-vitamins. It is more nutritious than unprocessed grain.
In prehistory, people were not aware of the complex biochemistry that is necessary for the improved nutritional value
of cereals. But they did observe that malting (partial germination and subsequent drying) made the grain taste sweeter and
make it more palatable. Malting has the advantage of making the grain friable and therefore much easier to crush or grind up.
As explained in Chapter One crushed malted grain, when gently heated in a bowl or oven with copious amounts of water, will
always produce a sweet barley mash with malt liquid because of the enzyme activity. Unmalted grain can only produce a
starchy porridge or gruel.
Having mashed the malt, it is but a few steps from the first, perhaps accidental, fermentation of the sweet malt liquid
by wild airborne yeasts to the successful control and management of the whole malting, mashing and fermentation process.
Observation, skill and practice are all that is required to learn how to manage these processes. Knowledge of the complex
biochemistry is not necessary. Ale has been made successfully from the grain for millennia, long before the complexities of the
biochemistry were understood and explained by scientists.
Katz and Voigt’s theories of ‘biocultural evolution’ and the development of ‘cuisine’ centre on the ways that people
process foods in these highly complex ways to “transform marginally nutritious and outright toxic substances into high quality
foods” (Katz & Voigt 1986:25) (figure 3.1). Food processing techniques are learnt by one generation and passed on to, perhaps
even improved upon by the next generation. Katz makes the point that “this information transfer requires stability. In all
probability, myths, stories and legends, some of which are woven into ritual practices, all play a critical role in the process of
stabilising the content of traditions that are passed from one generation to the next, as well as the social context through which
they flow. Once stability has been achieved, the trial and error process that must originally have led to the evolution of the
specific traditions is no longer necessary” (Katz & Voigt, 1986:25). The most crucial and important rituals and traditions
relate to the acquisition, processing techniques and consumption of food (ibid: 25).
The conversion and transformation of barley grain into malts and ale is a set of activities that very easily lends itself to
the acquisition of complex ritual practices and to the transfer of these practices through the generations. The manufacture of
malt and ale from the grain comprises a set of traditions, rituals, skills and knowledge that could accurately be described as a
domestic ritual activity.
2. Hunting and gathering groups in the Near East and Levant: 9th/ 8th millennia BC
Modern species of six-rowed barley (Hordeum vulgare subsp polystichum) have been developed and selectively bred
by agriculturalists over millennia from its wild ancestor, the wild two-rowed barley (Hordeum vulgare subsp. spontaneum).
Wild barley is a natural plant of the area known as the ‘Fertile Crescent’. This includes the modern countries of Israel, Jordan,
southern Turkey, Iraq, Kurdistan and southwest Iran. Barley grows prolifically in the Jordon Rift Valley and the
Tigris/Euphrates basin and sporadically in the Aegean region, around the Mediterranean coast, central Asia and Afghanistan
(Zohary and Hopf 1988:58).
A number of sites were occupied during the 9th and 8th millennia BC in the Levant, the area now known as Syria,
Jordon and Israel, for example Tell Abu Hureyra and Mureybit, both in north Syria and Tell Aswad, near modern Damascus
(ibid:60). Sickle blades have been found in the earliest levels at these sites. Some were even made from baked clay. Wild grain
seeds were stored in pits. The native species of wheat and barley were gathered by hunter-gathering groups, known as the
Natufian culture (Katz & Voigt 1986:32). Jack Harlan, visiting an area by the Karacadag Mountain in the province of
Diyarbakir, southeast Turkey, during the 1960s has described “vast seas of primitive wild wheat” (Harlan 1967:197). He
conducted harvesting experiments, collecting the wild grain by hand and also using a flint sickle. With the flint sickle he
gathered 2.45 kg of grain within an hour and he estimated that, in a three-week period, enough grain to last a family for a year
could be gathered easily and quickly. Unprocessed grain is not a good nutritional food source and it had to be processed in
some way. It is often assumed that, in the Neolithic, grain was only ground into flour for bread. However, grain can also be
malted. This process of partial germination alters grain, making it friable and releasing enzymes that convert starch into sugar.
Katz and Voigt’s theories of biocultural evolution and cuisine are best explained by the diagrams reproduced here. Plant
defences are eventually overcome by evolution but this is a slow process. Humans can ‘unlock’ these defences by a
combination of cultural and biological adaptations, by creating a set of traditions and ritual food preparation techniques that
is a biocultural phenomenon termed ‘cuisine’ by Katz and Voigt. Cuisine is defined as the transformation of raw or modified
plants or plant products into cooked or culturally modified foods (Katz and Voigt 1986:24).
The Natufian culture is usually seen as “a transitional phase between two cultural sequences, these being the
Palaeolithic hunter gatherers on the one hand and the Neolithic agricultural societies on the other” (Belfer-Cohen 1995:9).
These people lived a nomadic life. They gathered wild foods, hunted birds and animals, fished and moved around the area
seasonally in order to exploit a wide variety of natural food resources, amongst which were wild barley (Hordeum
FERMENTATION (YEASTS), MOULDS,
BACTERIA) SOAKING, SPROUTING, PEELING,
DRYING, MASHING, SPICING, CHEMICAL, COMBINATIONS
WITH OTHER PLANT FOODS
spontaneumi) and einkorn of two varieties (tritium boeoticum var aegilipoides and var thaudor) which grew abundantly in the
area (Thorpe 1996:6). The material remains of the early Natufian culture precede the earliest food-producing groups of the
Neolithic Near East and Levant (Byrd & Moynahan 1995). The culture can be divided into two or three developmental stages,
based upon technological and stratigraphic criteria (Belfer-Cohen 1995). It is not clear when the Natufian people first learned
how to convert grain into malt sugars. They were either gathering wild grains or beginning to cultivate them by c8500 BC
(Maisels 1990). It is likely that they were making several products and that malting was an early discovery. Allowing the grain
to grow a little before grinding or crushing with mortars makes it a much easier task. This is because enzymes activated during
the germination process break down the husk of the grain and make the starchy endosperm friable. This process naturally
produces malt flour.
Tell Abu Hureyra, northern Syria
Tell Abu Hureyra is situated in northern Syria, by the Euphrates, about 40 kilometres from Mureybit. The skeletal
remains of 162 individuals were found (Moore 1979). These human remains span 3000 years of the site’s occupation and have
been analysed by Theya Molleson at the Natural History Museum (Molleson 1994). Activities that were regularly carried out
by the inhabitants have left their marks on the bones. Molleson discovered that bones of the upper spine were deformed,
indicating the carrying of heavy loads on the head. Skeletal evidence indicates that grain was regularly pounded in pestles and
mortars or crushed using querns.
According to Theya Molleson, the introduction of pottery technology c6000 BC coincided with an increase in the
numbers of dental caries and decay in the teeth of the Abu Hureyra people. She attributes this to “a greater emphasis on cooked
cereals made into bread and porridge...sticky foods that adhere to the teeth and provide the medium for the growth of bacteria
that cause caries” (ibid: 64). Similarly high levels of periodontal disease and dental caries have apparently been noted at the
Natufian site of Nahal Oren (Smith, P. 1989, 1991, noted in Thorpe 1996:6).
Today sugars are a well-known cause of caries and dental decay. Perhaps these people had discovered the processes
of malting and mashing the grain and the manufacture of malt sugars. As shown in the experiments described and illustrated
earlier malted barley, when heated gently with water, always produces not a bland, starchy gruel or porridge, but an extremely
sweet and sticky barley mash, together with liquid malt sugars.
Malt is nutritious and it is an excellent source of easily digestible B-vitamins. It is interesting to note that, according
to Molleson, there was a larger proportion of infant skeletons recovered from the pottery levels compared with in the earlier
strata. This might be an indication of the consumption of these malt sugars at Abu Hureyra. The addition of B-Vitamins to the
diet would certainly have improved the health and probably the life expectancy of all inhabitants, both adults and children
Figure 3.2: Rough map of the Levant and Near East, showing Neolithic and Bronze Age sites that are discussed in the text.
Tell Neba’a Faour
Abu Hureyra Jarmo
3. Early grain cultivation and processing in the 7th/6th millennia BC
Cultivated varieties of both barley and emmer wheat have been found during excavations at aceramic Neolithic sites
of the late 8th and early 7th millennia BC, for example at Tell Aswad, Jarmo, Jericho and Ali Kosh (Zohary & Hopf 1988:60).
The seeds differ from their wild counterparts, suggesting the beginning of deliberate and selective cultivation and
domestication. The presence of grinding stones at these settlements indicates that grain processing was an activity. It is not
clear what end product was being manufactured. Malt is a possible and likely candidate, since querns and grinding stones are
as useful for crushing malt as they would be for grinding unmalted grain into flour.
It has been suggested that “the event that ‘primed the pump’ and led people to invest energy in the collection and
propagation of wild wheat and barley was the discovery of new food processing techniques - the sprouting and fermentation of
these grains” (Katz and Voigt 1986:27). Malting and mashing require only a malting floor, a hearth, oven or kiln, hot stones
and containers. Fermentation of the wort only requires a large container with a suitable cover to keep airborne contaminants
out of the ferment. Yeast and access to a water supply are also necessary.
A few small ceramic vessels were found in early levels at Mureybit dating to c8000 BC, namely two cups with flat
bottoms, a cylindrical vase and a small oval bowl, together with clay-baked female figurines and artefacts described as
“batons” (Maisels 1993:85). Maisels considers these to be genuine ceramics and they are the earliest so far found in the Near
East. There have been a few finds of White Ware, or Vaiselle Blanche. This is a precursor to clay-fired pottery and is described
as “a composite of lime...and salty grey ashes. Vessels, often of a large size, were built up in coils round a basket...and when
dried and fired this White Ware turns into a hard white material resembling limestone” (Mellart 1975:62). Although White
Ware is not pottery in the true sense of the word, it would have functioned in a similar way to pottery vessels (figure 3.3).
White Ware is dated to between the second half of the 7th millennium BC and the first half of the 6th millennium BC.
Remains of White Ware have been found at Ain Ghazal in eastern Amman (Rollefson 1983,1984, 1986), at Tell Sukas in Syria
(Riis & Thrane 1974:26), at Tell Ramad II, close by Mount Hermon, Syria, (de Contenson 1971:278) and at Byblos, on the
Lebanese coast (Mellaart 1975) (figure 3.2).
As well as the manufactured White Ware vessels described above, pre-pottery cultures also made vessels and
containers from stone. At Beidha, a pre pottery Neolithic village dated from c7000 BC and situated high in the mountains
south of the Dead Sea, the people used stone bowls, troughs and mortars, with baskets coated with bitumen and lime plaster
also serving as containers (Maisels 1993:87). Such vessels would be suitable for the containment of liquid products from grain
processing, for example the malt sugars and the ale. Strains of wild barley were cultivated and access to a reliable water supply
would not have been a problem since the settlement is situated close by the spring of Dibadiba, in Wadi Gharab (ibid:79).
At Ali Kosh, dated from c7200 BC, the evidence points to a community that cultivated grain and also gathered the
wild strains of wheat and barley. Wild game was hunted. The floors of the houses were made of stamped mud, often surfaced
with a layer of clean clay and then sometimes overtopped with reeds. There is evidence of regular repair and maintenance of
The inhabitants built domed mud brick ovens. They made stone mortars and used “stone bowls made of limestone or
marble...most likely for the gruel.” (Maisels 1993:101). The product is more likely to have been not ‘gruel’ but liquid malt
sugars. The mud and clay floors would have been suitable as malting floors for spreading out the grain as it began to grow. The
stone mortars could have been used for crushing the malt and the stone vessels for mashing the malted grain. At this early
Neolithic site, they had all the necessary equipment and material culture to process the grain that they harvested into a sweet
barley mash and malt liquid.
White ware vessels from pre pottery Neolithic sites in the Levant. Vessels a-d from Labwe, e-g from Tell Naba’a Faour and f
from Tell Ramad (Mellaart 1975: 64).
No scale. Mellaart describes the vessels as ‘large’.
Ain Ghazal, Jordan
Ain Ghazal is a large early Neolithic settlement in Jordan. Contemporary with Jericho, it is situated by a spring that
flows throughout the year so it was a permanent site. Earliest radiocarbon dates obtained from Ain Ghazal are c7250 BC
(Rollefson 1986:45), when the settlement was between 4 and 5 hectares in area. By c6500 BC, the site had developed to 12.5
hectares (31 acres) and was situated on both sides of the Zarqa River (Maisels 1993:92).
Excavations have revealed “architectural remains, flint tools, stone bracelet fragments, stone bowls, animal figurines,
bone tools, human burials, domesticated plant remains (including wheat, fig, pea and lentil), grinding stones, ornaments, shells,
plastered vessels, one obsidian tool and what have been designated ‘white objects’” (Kafafi 1986:51). White Ware objects
from Ain Ghazal were examined by X-ray fluorescence and were discovered to have been made of a chalky limestone material
containing calcite and were carved or otherwise formed by hand. Basalt pestles and grinders/crushers were also found, as well
as limestone querns and large “stone bowl” type mortars, used for crushing and grinding. Pottery technology was beginning to
develop and over twenty fired sherds of vessels “from securely dated mid 7th millennium locations were located in the first four
seasons” (Maisels 1993:93).
The presence of red-painted and burnished plastered floors at Ain Ghazal and of similar painted plaster floors in Jericho
(Hodder 1990:35) might be evidence of a specially made malting floor but this is very difficult to prove without analyzing
grains from that context for signs of partial germination. Malting floors could look like any other plastered floor surface that
may be found in domestic or ritual buildings. It appears that the inhabitants of Ain Ghazal may have had adequate facilities for
malting and mashing grain: they had suitable floor surfaces within substantial buildings, vessels, containers, crushing stones
and ovens or kilns.
Of great interest to the excavators, indeed, a unique find, were the unusual statues and figurines that had been deliberately
buried together in a pit dug into the remains of an abandoned house (Rollefson 1983, 1986, 1987, 1989). The 10 largest statues
were 80-90 cm high and had been made by the construction of a reed and twig ‘skeleton’, bound with up with twine and
covered with plaster (Rollefson 1983:32). The statues had personal details, such as noses, fingers, toes, ears and eyes and they
are indicative of “sophisticated art and a ritual and social complexity” ((Rollefson 1986:45).
Figure 3.4: Plaster statues from Ain Ghazal, Jordan, c6500 BC. The larger figure is 84 cm high. These statues indicate the
complexity, sophistication and technical skills of this early Neolithic community (Collon 1995 figure 21).
These statues are striking (figure 3.4). They are described as being “quite different from the usual pregnant woman
fecundity blobs, usually headless and legless, found in so many Neolithic contexts” (Maisels 1993:94). Female figurines, so
disparagingly described by Maisels, are represented at Ain Ghazal and many other early Neolithic sites of the Near East,
Levant and Central Europe.
Maisel’s description seems to be unfair and inaccurate. Female figurines are much more than just ‘fecundity blobs’.
Some from Central Europe are carved from marble; others from ivory and bone and some from the 6 th and 5th millennia BC
have been made from baked terracotta with cereal grain impressions decorating the torso (Gimbutas 1982:154-160,204). The
level of artistic and technological skill is impressive. A wide variety of beautifully manufactured figurines depicting male,
female and animal entities are found on most sites of the early Neolithic throughout Europe (Gimbutas 1982). Their existence
demonstrates that ritual activity and spiritual beliefs were very important aspects of life to these early agricultural people.
Some rituals may have been related to the sowing, cultivation, harvesting and processing of grain and other crops.
Tell Ramad II
This site dates from the late 7th millennium BC (Maisels 1993:76). The houses at Tell Ramad were adobe huts with
hearths and large basins, perhaps used for grain processing. The presence of querns, grinders, and wooden storage bins are
indicative of an “agricultural regime”, although hunting, fishing and fowling probably remained important subsistence
activities for the people there at this time (ibid: 75).
White Ware was found at this and other contemporary sites (figure 3.2). This unbaked coil ware was made of a
mixture of limestone and salty grass ashes. The mixture was soft enough to fashion and construct coiled pots and became as
hard as cement when dried in the sun. Firing in a kiln was not necessary (de Contenson 1971:282,3). No complete White Ware
vessels or objects have been found and the fragments so far excavated indicate that platters, deep and thick walled bowls of
various sizes, pendants, cylinders and anthropomorphic figurines were being made from this material. Barley was grown from
the very beginning of the settlement at Tell Ramad, being made into ‘porridge’, according to the excavators (ibid: 279). It is
just as likely that the grain was malted and mashed using White Ware vessels and stone bowls.
4. Early pottery Neolithic cultures: 6th/5th millennia BC
Catal Huyuk, Konya Plain, Anatolia
Catal Huyuk is a well-known neolithic site on the Konya Plain in Anatolia. It is a large settlement tell that covers 32
acres and it was occupied between c6250 BC until c5400 BC (Mellaart 1975:98). There is the evidence at Catal Huyuk of
many features necessary for malting and mashing the grain, such as, plastered floors, ovens, kilns with domed chambers, grain
bins and vessels of pottery, stone and wood (Mellaart 1967:62). Mellaart listed “… coiled baskets, with or
The terracotta figurine of a goddess,
apparently giving birth and resting
her hands on two leopards. It was
discovered in a grain storage bin from
level II at Catal Huyuk, Turkey. The
figurine is 11. 8cm high.
Female figurines have been found at
Hacilar, Ain Ghazal, Tell Ramad and
many other Neolithic sites.
without covers, leather bags, wooden vessels and boxes with lids of various shapes, a few luxury vessels in stone and pottery”
(Mellaart 1975:104). Some of the pottery vessels were deep, round based and could be described as ‘bag shaped’ (figure 3.6).
Pottery was found in the earliest levels, with plain bowl forms predominating. Lids have not been found but Mellaart suggests
that wood, textiles or leather may have been used and tied onto the lugs of vessels (ibid 1975:105). Basic equipment such as
this would have provided suitable anaerobic conditions for mashing or fermentation.
Ovens and kilns are usually interpreted as being necessary for bread making and baking but they are also suitable
equipment for drying malt. Mellaart interpreted the ‘huge ovens’, discovered in Levels IV and V, as a bakery. The grain bins,
made of dried clay, were about one metre in height and were found in pairs or in rows. They were filled from the top and
emptied from the bottom, via a small hole made at the base of the bin so that the oldest grain was used up first.
That the grain may have been regarded as a special, sacred and important crop is perhaps suggested by the discovery
of a female figurine made of terracotta (figure 3.5). This has been interpreted as the representation of a fertility goddess and it
was found within one of the grain storage bins in Level II (Davidson 1998:53). Such ‘goddess’ figurines are found in at a great
many other sites in Anatolia, for example, at Hacilar.
The symbolism within the ritual areas at Catal Huyuk is complex and powerful, with women appearing to have
control over wild creatures, such as leopards and lions (Hodder 1990:5ff). The images on the walls could depict hunting deities.
The female deities represented as figurines at Catal Huyuk and at other similarly dated sites are powerful images (figure 3.5).
Hilda Ellis Davidson sees them as embodying reproductive power, fertility and the domestication of the wild (Davidson
1998:53,138). She notes that, from later prehistory and documented in early history, there are many powerful female deities
strongly associated with fertility and with the sowing, cultivation and processing of grain crops. For example, in Egypt, Isis
was the deity that presided over bread, beer, green wheat, barley and also flax. She was reputed to have taught the people how
to grow their crops and make their bread and beer.
The connection between bread and ale is emphasised in a ‘Hymn to Hathor’, another Egyptian Goddess who is
sometimes identified with Isis. She is addressed as “Mistress of Bread, who made Beer.” Demeter, the Greek goddess, was
associated with the sowing of grain and her principal festival took place before the first ploughing of the season.
Wooden (5-8), stone (4) and pottery
(1-3) vessels from Catal Huyuk,
Anatolia, from levels II, III, 1V. The
pottery vessels appear to be suitable for
processing barley mash and liquids. The
function of the stone object (4) is
unclear. The wooden vessels are
suitable for the consumption of food and
drink (after Clarke, J.G.D. 1977: figure
Animal sacrifice and ritual activities were associated with the ploughing of the land, the sowing of grain and the
harvest and these rituals are connected with the cult of Demeter (ibid:54ff). It is probable that rituals such as these had their
origins in the early Neolithic and they are associated with the earliest cultivators. The archaeological evidence of Catal Huyuk,
where sacred and ritual spaces, images of deities and elaborate wall paintings have been uncovered (Mellaart 1967:77) seems
to support this idea.
Ceremony and ritual activity were clearly very important to the early Neolithic people on the Konya Plain. It seems
very likely that malt and ale were being made at this time, perhaps ritually and as a special product. The association of a
powerful female deity with grain storage is therefore a credible concept in this early Neolithic context.
5. Fermentation of barley wort into ale: 4th/3rd millennia BC
Godin Tepe, Zagros Mountains
The earliest chemical evidence so far discovered for the manufacture of ale has been found at the site of Godin Tepe,
an Uruk site of late 4th millennium BC. The settlement appears to have been a trading centre and it is located in the Zagros
Mountains of modern Iran (Joffe 1998:303).
An organic residue inside a double handled jug, found in Room 18 of the Oval Enclosure on the citadel of Godin
Tepe, was analysed and identified as ‘beer stone’ or calcium oxalate. This is a substance that always settles out on the internal
surfaces of vessels that are regularly used for the fermentation or storage of barley wort (McGovern 1992).
Residues of tartaric acid were found in other vessels that had been stoppered and were found lying on their sides in
the same room, indicating that they probably had contained wine rather than ale. According to one of the excavators, Virginia
Badler, the presence of wine and beer containers in such an important area of the enclave indicates that these products were
being manufactured and distributed along with other foodstuffs and possibly transported to and traded with people in the
lowlands (Badler, quoted in Joffe 1998:304). Joffe points out that the discovery of another site with similar ceramic
assemblages and architectural structures at Habuba Kabira South on the bend of the Euphrates perhaps indicates “parallel
redistributive mechanisms” (Joffe 1998:304).
Brewing in Mesopotamia
By the late 4th/early 3rd millennia BC malting, mashing and fermentation were being practised on a large scale in
Mesopotamia. Approximately 40% of the barley harvested was being used for malting and brewing purposes (Corran
1975:15). Cylinder seals, evidence of the highly organised administrative system of the Uruk culture, have been found with
illustrations depicting the consumption of an alcoholic drink, presumably either wine or ale, being drunk from large vessels
through straws (figure 3.7).
Evidence for the large-scale production of bread, malt and ale has been found at the 3rd millennium site of Abu
Salabikh in southern Iraq, a large settlement complex. So far 29 fire installations from Area E have been excavated, including
several ‘tannurs’ or bread ovens, clay lined open hearths and one example of a two storey oven (Crawford 1981:105) which
could probably have functioned for drying malt. Further research clearly needs to be done into the differences in kiln or oven
design and their specific function.
There is evidence for the centralised storage of grain in specially constructed buildings during the 3rd millennium BC
in Northern Mesopotamia. A number of sites with storage and processing facilities for amounts of grain in quantities “well
beyond that needed to support the local population” (Irving 1999:43) have been located and excavated in the middle Khabur
Valley, northeast Syria (figure 3.2). These sites, namely Tell Atij, Kerma, Tell al-Raqa’i, Bderi and Tell Ziyadeh, are clustered
along the banks of the Khabur River and are dated to the mid to late Ninevite V period.
At Tell Atij six semi-vaulted structures with plastered interiors were interpreted as grain silos. Storage jars were
plaster lined, perhaps to aid the preservation of the contents. A suggestion that can be made in the light of experiments
described in Chapter One is that this plaster lining of pottery jars was to facilitate the containment of a liquid product, such as
wort or ale. At Tell al-Raqa’i the existence of silos, mud brick platforms, ovens and pottery sherds suggests processing of the
grain, probably by malting and kilning.
The dominant grain grown in this region was barley. It may have been grown as an animal fodder crop to feed the
herds of the rich and powerful elite groups (Irving 1999:44), but it is also the fundamental ingredient for the manufacture of
sweet malts and ale. It has been suggested that the extent of the agricultural and administrative development in the middle
Khabur Valley indicates increased social complexity and the rise of elite and powerful individuals or groups who had control
over the trade and distribution of agricultural produce (ibid). Clearly, the Khabur Valley was an important trade route for the
exchange of goods and products destined for both the south and the north using river transport. One of these products may
have been ale.
Both the manufacture and the consumption of ale and wine were of significant social, religious and economic
importance to Sumerian culture. Alexander Joffe (1998) sees the manufacture, exchange and consumption of alcohol as
forming “a significant element ...in the emergence of complex, hierarchically organised societies.” His detailed analysis, based
on Michael Dietler’s model (1990), concentrates on the social, economic and political aspects of the consumption of alcohol
rather than on the practicalities of its manufacture.
From the available evidence it seems that beer and wine were being manufactured and consumed on a huge scale
during the Ubaid and Uruk periods. Pottery was being mass-produced and large public buildings were being constructed, both
administrative and religious (ibid:303). Alcoholic beverages had become an important and integral part of the economic and
religious systems, with complex redistribution systems and centres of mass production. Numerous administrative texts record
brewing as a craft activity and the redistribution and trade in beer. Drinking scenes appear on seals, often in ceremonial or
celebratory situations. The Royal Standard of Ur, dated to c2600 BC and found in grave number 779 of the Royal Cemetery,
depicts feasting and celebrations after a military victory. Animals are depicted being brought either for slaughter or as booty
and grain is being carried, apparently as important and valuable a commodity as the animals were.
The Sumerians brewed eight types of ale from barley, eight from wheat and three from mixed types of grain (Vencl
1994:308). Both the Sumerians and the Egyptians mashed the malted barley by making so-called ‘beer bread’ or bappir.
Corran (1975:17) argues that “with the making of beer bread, the processes of baking and brewing have become linked
together”. According to annotations referring to bappir and ale in the Sumerian and Akkadian dictionaries, bappir was,
however, only eaten during times of famine or necessity (Katz & Maytag 1991:27). The grain was being mashed as bappir and
then stored as a raw material for the purpose of making ale not as bread for daily consumption. Certainly, by the early 3rd
Millennium BC, a ‘drinking culture’ was well established in the Near East and Levant.
In 1990 Solomon Katz and Fritz Maytag reproduced a Sumerian-style ale based on the methods described in the
Hymn to Ninkasi and working in association with the Anchor Brewing Company of San Francisco. A few modifications were
made for legal reasons and also because they were unsure that the mix would contain enough sugars for fermentation. Honey
was added instead of dates to the bappir and malt extract was added to the mash tank. Nevertheless, in spite of these changes,
they proved that the ancient techniques worked and the resultant ale was described as having “the smoothness and
effervescence of champagne and a slight aroma of dates” (Katz & Maytag 1991:33).
The mashing experiments undertaken as part of this research indicate that their fears of inadequate amounts of grain
sugars for fermentation were completely unfounded. With the correct equipment, conditions and temperatures and the
specialised knowledge of the crafts of malting and mashing it is possible to make a wort with a very high sugar content from
the barley grain alone.
Early Dynastic seal impressions depicting drinking scenes. Straws, presumably made from reeds, are used to avoid drinking
the chaff and sediments (after Singer 1980, Amiet 1980).
6. Brewing in Egypt: 3rd/2nd millennia BC
Ale was a staple item of diet in Egypt from the 3rd millennium BC onwards, a drink for both the poor and the wealthy.
It was drunk on a daily basis and it was also brewed for state occasions and festivals, being an essential part of offerings to
gods and goddesses (Lucas 1962:12-16, Davidson 1998:138). Ale was of considerable economic and social importance.
Frequently it was a part of wages or payment for work done or services rendered. The villages of Amarna and Deir el Medina
provide excellent evidence for large-scale bread making and brewing during the 2nd millennium BC (Samuels 1996).
Due to the dry climate of Egypt organic residues are perfectly preserved on pottery. Budding yeast cells and even
signs of enzyme attack on starch granules during germination can be seen using scanning electron microscopes (Samuel 1995).
Residues on Eighteenth Dynasty Egyptian pottery were first noticed in 1928 by Dr J. Gruss, who observed starch grains, yeast
cells, moulds and bacteria under a microscope and concluded that this yeast was either deliberately or accidentally cultivated
by the Egyptians (Lucas 1962:16).
Techniques of grain processing are illustrated in scenes that decorate Egyptian tombs (see figure 1.8). Statuettes and
models were sometimes placed in tombs in order to re-create all necessary provisions for the deceased in the afterlife (Samuel
1996:3). Delwen Samuel of Cambridge University has recently tested these ancient grain processing techniques in
collaboration with the Egypt Exploration Society and Scottish and Newcastle Breweries. A re-created Egyptian beer was made
and it was aptly named ‘Tutenkhamun’ (Samuel 1996). It was, apparently, sweet and good to drink.
If the manufacture and consumption of ale was of such great importance to Sumerian and Egyptian Bronze Age
cultures, as is suggested by Joffe (1998, then what of its significance in a Neolithic and European context? The next three
chapters evaluate the possibilities for the processing of barley grain into sweet malts and ale in Neolithic Europe, during the
Orcadian Neolithic and in the Neolithic British Isles. As it has been so far, the emphasis is on the assessment of the practical
aspects of the material culture, buildings and equipment necessary for this kind of activity (see figure 1.15).
The consumption of ale has been the subject of several archaeological and anthropological studies (Burgess and
Shennan 1976; Dietler 1989,1996; Hayden 1996; Joffe 1998). The intention of the next three chapters is to concentrate on
assessing the extant archaeological evidence for the ritual, perhaps even magical activity of the manufacture of malt, malt
sugars and ale from the grain.
Several crushed Henbane seeds were recently found in the same context as an organic residue described as “a lump of
carbonised porridge” (Sherratt 1996:14) adhering to a sherd from a very large Grooved Ware vessel. The pottery had been
deliberately deposited in a pit by a Neolithic timber mortuary enclosure at the ritual site at Balfarg/Balbirnie, Fife, Scotland. It
could either indicate a medicinal use of the seed (Barclay et al 1993) or it could indicate the ritual practice of adding Henbane
to ale. The cereal residues are described as being “ritually charged material” and are interpreted as ‘porridge’ (ibid 1993:109).
They are much more likely to be the remains of sediments left by the fermentation of a barley wort into ale. The Henbane
seeds would have been added to the brew during the boiling stage in order to make it more potent with added hallucinatory
effects. This possible interpretation is discussed in more detail in Chapter Six, where the practicalities and possibilities of the
manufacture of malts and ale during the British early Neolithic are summarised and assessed.
Henbane ale, if consumed in small amounts, would have very obvious intoxicating and hallucinogenic effects. If
consumed in large quantities it would induce dementia, hallucinations and ultimately death. Such potentially dangerous
additives as Henbane were probably not regularly added to ale or taken on a regular basis, but were a part of special ritual
events only. Sherratt (1991,1995,1996) argues for the ritual or medicinal consumption of a number of narcotic substances
during the Bronze Age and the Neolithic, such as the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) and
the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). He cites the discoveries of opium poppy seeds at the Neolithic lake villages, Neuchatal,
Switzerland and also at Linearbandkeramik sites in the Rhineland. He argues that the use of psychoactive substances in
prehistory is “fundamental to the nature of sociality and an active element in the construction of religious experience, gender
categories and the rituals of social life” (Sherratt 1995:34). From the evidence at Balfarg/Balbirnie it appears that such
activities and rituals occurred during the British Neolithic.
It is generally accepted that ritual and social activities that included “feasting, from domestic celebration to communal
occasions, requiring the large scale slaughter or sacrifice of animals and the brewing of drinks” (Sherratt 1991:51) were a
significant aspect of Bronze Age life, both in Europe and in the British Isles (Burgess & Shennan 1976). This is supported by
the analysis of cereal-based residues from the Strathallan Beaker, radiocarbon dated to c1540+/-60 BC (figure 2.6). The food
vessel or beaker accompanied a female burial in a stone-lined cist at North Mains, Strathallan, Fife. A mixture of cereal
residues and Meadowsweet pollen within the beaker was interpreted by the excavators as being the probable remnants of
fermented cereal-based drink, namely ale (Barclay et al, 1983).
A beaker that was found in a stone-lined and clay-sealed cist grave dated to the middle Bronze Age at Ashgrove, Fife,
Scotland, (Dickson 1978) contained plant debris and pollen from immature meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) flowers and
from flowers of the small leaved lime tree (Tilia cordata), indicating that the beaker had contained mead. Vessels made of
birch bark containing the residues of a mead or ale type drink have been found at Egtved, Denmark, and at other Danish
Bronze Age bog burial sites (Thomsen 1929, ref to in Dickson 1978). The contents of one vessel, described as a ‘birch bark
bucket’ by Professor Gram in the late 1920s, contained “debris of wheat grains, leaves of bog myrtle and fruits of cranberry”
There is, then, significant and convincing evidence for the consumption of ale and mead during the Bronze Age.
These alcoholic drinks were probably made by the women who were the principal gatherers, cultivators and food processors
within the community. Arguments have been made for Bronze Age “male drinking cults” (Burgess & Shennan 1976) but there
is no real archaeological evidence for this. The Strathallan Beaker, for example, was found in the cist grave of a female.
Beakers have been found accompanying both males and females, indicating the probable consumption of alcoholic drinks by
both genders. Women may have been the maltsters, the brewers and the ale manufacturers. It seems very unlikely that they did
not consume the product that they so carefully and skillfully made.
Ale made prior to the introduction of hops was a very different drink compared with the gaseous, carbonated beer that
we are now accustomed to, even though it is fundamentally the same product and is made according to the same unchanging
biochemical laws. The various herbal additives would make the ale taste quite unlike hopped beer. Ale was a flat, not a fizzy,
carbonated drink. Carbonisation was an invention of the mid 20th century and it was introduced into Britain in the 1940s by
American servicemen during the Second World War.
The use of Hops as a preservative and flavouring was first promoted by the Christian monks of the Medieval period
and, although popular in Europe from the 8th or 9th centuries AD, hops were not used throughout the British Isles until the 15th
or 16th century (Ratsch 1994). The use of herbs in ale, particularly Henbane, had close associations with paganism and with
witchcraft practices and would understandably have been a practice that the Church greatly wanted to discourage.
The material culture of the Neolithic is very similar to that of the Bronze Age. At both periods of prehistory there
were buildings suitable for grain storage and processing, and suitable large pottery vessels for food and drink storage and for
mashing and fermentation purposes. The early Neolithic cultures grew barley and wheat for the products that could be made
from them, not only the flour and bread but also the sweet malts and the ale. In Egypt and Syria during the 4th and 3rd millennia
BC, ale and other alcoholic beverages were an important part of ritual, domestic, commercial and economic life. The next
chapter examines the first cereal and grain cultivation and processing activity in the Levant and in the Near East. It assesses the
possibility that these early Neolithic groups were processing the wild barley and wheat into sweet malts and ale and cultivating
grain deliberately as a source of sweetness.
CHAPTER FOUR: Grain in Neolithic Europe.
1. The transition to agriculture in Europe
The introduction of grain cultivation and processing into Europe is an enormous and complex area for investigation.
Much has been written about the particular reasons for the Mesolithic/Neolithic transition in Europe. There are many theories
and assessments of the reasons for the transition from a hunting, gathering and fishing lifestyle to an agriculturally based one.
Archaeological debate has been, for the most part, theoretical, and has used anthropological and ethnographic analysis to
reconstruct the past (Tilley 1996:25). This chapter will investigate practical aspects of early Neolithic cultures in Europe and
assess the viability and potential of their material culture for malt and ale production.
Ian Hodder (1990) proposed the concept of ‘domus’ which focuses upon the importance of hearth and home and upon
the control or domestication of the wild in the early Neolithic. The definition of ‘domus’ is best summarised in his own words
as “practical activities carried out in the house, food preparation and the sustaining of life. But it is also an abstract term.
Secondary, symbolic connotations are given to the practical activities, leading to the house as a focus for symbolic elaboration
and the use of the house as a metaphor for social and economic strategies and relations of power” (Hodder 1990:44).
Christopher Tilley (1996) has interpreted the Neolithic in ethnographic terms. He refers to food as “a highly symbolic
medium. Its production, consumption and distribution is never just a practical and technological matter but is loaded with
symbolism and hedged around by political and social relations. Acts of eating, sharing, food preparation and consumption
must, in the Neolithic as in our own and other societies have formed a basic medium for sociability and for ritual practice”
(Tilley 1996:111). The contribution made by women to these fundamental and important areas of life, such as food production,
nurturing babies and children and other domestic activities is significant.
It seems that, at last, the focus of archaeological thought and interpretation is turning away from concepts of death and
an obsession with burial rites and rituals. Archaeological thought is now turning towards more practical aspects such as food
production, food processing, consumption and the rituals of daily life.
The Neolithic involves the introduction of new technologies such as the introduction of ceramics technology, which
transformed food preparation methods and techniques. At the same time, grain products were an important and new addition to
the diet in early Neolithic Europe. As well as providing carbohydrates in the form of flour and bread, grain is the primary
ingredient for malt and ale. As has been discussed in earlier chapters, ale was an important commodity in ritual, social and
economic terms in the context of Mesopotamian, Sumerian and Egyptian cultures of the Neolithic and Bronze Age. Alcoholic
drinks that produced intoxicated states were significant aspects of ritual belief systems, ritual practice and ritual behaviour in
these early complex societies. For example, the Sumerians had a goddess of brewing named Ninkasi.
As well as having ritual significance, alcoholic drinks were also an important part of the social and political economy, being
paid as a tribute to the elite and powerful as well as being part of a ‘wages’ system in the construction of large monuments and
tombs. Competitive feasting between rival elite and powerful groups within society also seems to have occurred (Joffe
1998:297). The concept of ‘competitive feasting’ has recently been introduced to the discussion of cultural evolution in
Europe. Brian Hayden suggests that “one of the best candidates for a prehistoric competitive feasting system is the European
Neolithic” (Hayden 1996:141). There were feasting sites at causewayed enclosures and at megalithic tomb sites, as well as
evidence for complex trading systems, exchange networks and high status individuals within neolithic society. Special ceramic
vessels were used at feasts (figures 4.9, 4.10, 4.11). It is very likely that special foods and drinks, for example ale or mead,
were consumed at these and at other ritual or social occasions.
Not all feasts need to be competitive or ritualistic in nature. Feasting can be a celebratory event, creating social bonds
between individuals and groups. It can involve ‘work-party feasts’, that is, feasting as a payment or reward for the collective
accomplishment of a task by the community. Monumental constructions involving communal effort are an important aspect of
the early and later Neolithic in Europe and the British Isles. Such work may have been rewarded by the provision of a feast to
the workforce (Dietler 1996:104).
In the light of the evidence presented so far in this thesis, it is highly improbable that early and later Neolithic groups
of Europe were cultivating barley and wheat only for their porridge or bread-making potential. It is even more unlikely that
these were the special foods that people consumed at feasts. It has been proposed that ale did not become a part of life in
Europe and Britain until the Bronze Age (Burgess and Shennan 1976). Andrew Sherratt has suggested that “pure beers did not
appear until the Iron Age” although he acknowledges that stimulants of other kinds, such as cannabis, henbane and opium
poppy seeds, may have been a part of Neolithic ritual activity (Sherratt 1995:25). Alcohol is a drug that alters the mood and
consciousness of people. It is also a stimulant. It is easy to manufacture, provided one has knowledge of the special processes
The intention of this chapter is to show that early Neolithic groups of Europe had the necessary and required material
culture to convert the wheat and barley grain that they grew into malt and ale, based upon the experimental grain processing as
described in Chapter One. The proposal is that the manufacture of malt and ale was a major driving force behind the change
from a hunting and gathering lifestyle to that of grain cultivation within Europe. The attraction of grain cultivation lay in a
desire for the products that could be manufactured from the grain rather than in the acquisition of a new lifestyle of farming.
2. European Neolithic: 6th /5th millennia BC
The 6th and 5th millennia were a transitional period in prehistoric Europe, when the lifestyle of the indigenous
Mesolithic population was influenced and changed by new ideas of cereal cultivation and processing. Cereals are not a native
European plant. They were introduced from the Near East and Anatolia, where they grow in the wild (Zohary & Hopf
Figure 4.1 Map that shows the spread of agriculture from the Fertile Crescent into Central and Northern Europe, based on
radiocarbon dates (Sherratt 1980).
Figure 4.2: Map that shows the areas inhabited by the Mesolithic Ertebolle/Ellerbeck groups (1) and the Linearbandkeramik
early agricultural groups (2) in the 5th and 6th millennia BC (Tilley 1996).
Ground plans of House 49 at Tell
Ovchorovo in northeast Bulgaria,
showing changes made to the house
over the years and the areas for the
different grain processing activities
(after Bailey 1996: 151).
(a) The first house had no hearth, no
clay platform and two work areas.
(b) After 40 years the house was
rebuilt with room divisions, perhaps
even a second storey, a hearth by the
east wall, a clay platform against the
north wall and a grain silo. This
house burned down.
(c) The house was rebuilt with two
rooms, a grain silo, a hearth and a
(d) Grain processing continued
around the hearth area where many
grinding stones and pottery vessels
with volumes between 500cc and
10,500 cc were found.
In Europe, there was not a single ‘Mesolithic’ or ‘Neolithic’ way of life, but rather “a diverse set of lifestyles and
practices” (Tilley 1996:70). Some Mesolithic groups, for example the Ertebolle/Ellerbeck cultures of the Northern European
coast, maintained their hunting and gathering lifestyles for over a millennium, living alongside well established agricultural
communities, namely, the Linearbandkeramik culture who lived along the river valleys of central Europe (figures 4.1,4.2).
Northeast Bulgaria: Tell Ovchorovo.
After the grain has been sown, cultivated, harvested and stored it has to be processed for consumption. During the
experiments described in Chapter One it quickly became apparent that this is hard, skilled and labour-intensive work. Water
and wood have to be fetched. Heavy storage or cooking pots need to be lifted and equipment has to be washed and cleaned on
a regular basis to avoid contamination. It is also important to maintain a careful and close watch on the grain in all stages. Even
making relatively small amounts of malt or ale is a task more easily achieved by a group of people rather than by an individual.
Evidence for collective grain processing has been found in Northeast Bulgaria at Tell Ovchorovo, a settlement tell
almost 5m high and 100m in diameter, situated about 100 km west from the shores of the Black Sea. Radiocarbon dates from
the early 5th millennium BC have been obtained (Bailey 1997:142,149). There are many such settlement tells in Bulgaria but
only a few have been excavated so far. Those that have been excavated reveal the remains of complex dwellings. Some may
have been two-storeyed buildings with multiple entrances and may have had up to 5 rooms that were “full of furniture,
conveying a sense of comfort and domesticity” (Chapman 1991:158). Most of the buildings seem to have been dwellings but in
some “figurines and cult vessels were found which were used in some form of domestic ritual” (ibid:158). Ritual items
associated with this culture include anthropomorphic figurines of males, females and animals, artifacts inscribed with ritual
designs and decorated pottery vessels. This was an early agricultural society with a complex social and ritual structure that
appears to have been, in many ways, similar to early Neolithic pottery cultures of the Near East.
House 59 at Tell Ovchorovo is one of 112 houses on the settlement tell. It was excavated between 1971 and 1973
(Todorova 1976a, Todorova et al 1983). Two principal work areas were defined within the house (figure 4.3). One area was for
textile producing activities and the other was for grain preparation and processing (Bailey 1996:144). As well as a large grain
silo that was situated between the main room and the doorway there were grinding stones, pottery sherds, an oven, a hearth and
an interesting raised clay platform. Grain processing was an increasingly important activity over time within the settlement and
Douglas Bailey (1996) has interpreted the house as “a work station for the storage, parching and grinding” of cereal grains.
What exactly is meant by this description of grain processing? If the grain was made wet before being ‘parched’ and
then ‘ground’ then it may have begun to germinate and, if so, the necessary enzymes that convert starch into sugars will have
been activated within each grain. The necessary morphological and physiological changes for malting have occurred. Bailey
notes “redistribution may have occurred on a settlement wide basis with many different individuals bringing their small
quantities of grain to be processed in the house before storing the grain in their own houses” (ibid: 150).
Given the limited number of products that can be made from barley or wheat, namely flour, bread, porridge, malted grain
or ale, what is the evidence for malt and ale manufacture in House 59? Pottery sherds were found with potential volumes of
vessels ranging from 500 cc (about a pint) in early levels to 10,500 cc (2 gallons) in the later levels of House 59. Most of the
pots were less than a litre in capacity and would have been suitable as vessels for consumption. There was only one very large
vessel, 10,500 cc in volume. This pottery assemblage is consistent with what might be expected for the manufacture of ale.
One single large vessel is all that is needed for the fermentation of sweet wort and many smaller vessels are useful for
consumption of the end product.
Bailey concludes that the house probably had a special function as a grain-processing centre for the community rather
than functioning as a house or dwelling. This kind of behaviour and activity compares well with the central grain storage and
processing centres that are evident in the Khabur Valley during the 3rd millennium BC, as described in the previous chapter.
The process described by Bailey as ‘parching’ was probably the drying out or kilning of partially germinated grain (malt).
Some of the pottery vessels were quite large and, although there is no organic residue evidence yet available to confirm that
they were used for storage and fermentation of barley wort, I believe that this is one of their most likely functions.
There is widespread evidence of mixed agriculture during the 6th and 5th millennia BC in Europe. Sites of the
Linearbandkeramik, a remarkably homogenous cultural group who constructed large, elaborate longhouses, grew several
varieties of crops, kept cattle, sheep and pigs and who also made fine decorated pottery (figure 4.4) have been found along the
fertile river valleys of the Danube, the Rhine and other significant rivers and their tributaries throughout central Europe
(Ehrenburg 1992:90). The Linearbandkeramik culture flourished between c5500 BC and 4800 BC. Prestige artifacts, such as
spondylus shells from Greece (Halstead 1993: 607) and axes of basalt and of amphibolite, have been found at
Linearbandkeramik sites and such finds indicate long distance travel, communications, trade and exchange between these early
agriculturalists and other cultures (Thorpe 1996:33). The knowledge of grain processing techniques would have been passed
on through these far-reaching trade and exchange networks.
One view of their culture is expressed by Peter Bogucki (1988). He proposes that they were primarily cattle herders,
one of the main reasons for this lifestyle being the production of milk and meat. Small vessels with narrow spouts have been
found in children’s graves of this period that might perhaps indicate the feeding of cow’s milk to infants (Vencl 1994:302).
The processing of milk products is perhaps indicated by the ceramic sieve pottery (figure 4.4). Sherds of this kind of pottery,
generally interpreted as being the remains of sieves, presses or strainers of some kind, have been found at many
Linearbandkeramik sites (Bogucki 1988:89).
As well as being herders, the Linearbandkeramik also cultivated a wide range of crops including pulses and grain such
as einkorn, emmer wheat and barley for processing and consumption. Both pulses and cereal grains require abundant water for
their preparation. The finely painted and decorated large pottery bowls and small drinking cups are generally understood to
show “the importance of consuming food and drink in the context of feasting” (Thorpe 1996:32). This finely made pottery may
have been used for the manufacture and consumption of a prestigious liquid, probably ale. Carbonised grains are frequently
found at these early Neolithic sites (Bogucki 1988). They could perhaps indicate the accidental over kilning of malt or they
may indicate the accidental burning of the wooden building used to make, store or process malt.
Ceramic ‘sieve’ sherds from Linearbandkeramik sites in Central Europe. a, b, & e from Brzesc Kujawski, Poland; c from
Murr, Germany; d from Ditzingen-Schockingen, Germany. (Bogucki 1988). No scale.
Linearbandkeramik pottery bowl and cups,
flint knives, arrowheads and polished stone
adzes. The pottery is finely made, decorated
with incised lines. It was used at ceremonial
feasts, perhaps for containing and
consuming ale. These pots are in collections
at Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Bonn.
It is a very strong possibility that some of the grain processing taking place within this early Neolithic culture was the
manufacture of malt and ale. Water would have been accessed from local springs, streams and rivers or even specially
constructed wells. Several wells dating to the mid 6th millennium BC have been found at a number of Linearbandkeramik sites,
for example, at Mohelnice, Most, Remsdorf, Zipfendorf and Erkelenz-Kuckhoven (Vencl 1994:300). Weeds and wheat chaff
representing grain-processing waste have been found in rubbish pits at a number of settlement sites (Thorpe 1996:35). The
cultivation of grain and the manufacture of malt and ale seem to have been an important element in their subsistence and
The fine elaborate longhouses that they built appear to have been used as dwellings and shelter for both humans and
animals. They may also have functioned as grain storage and processing centres. These longhouses were the focus of
Linearbandkeramik society and there was considerable variety in both size and in design.
Some longhouses were up to 8 metres in width and up to 45 metres in length, others were much smaller buildings
(Thorpe 1996:34). Unfortunately, floor surfaces have not been preserved since many of these settlements or villages are
situated on loess soils, good agricultural land that has been heavily ploughed in modern times. This adds enormously to the
problem of interpreting this cultural group, since hearth and floor evidence have been completely destroyed. Posthole
evidence, however, indicates the internal division of the houses into distinct areas where different activities took place. It is
likely that there were significant functional differences between the buildings.
Some of these structures can be interpreted as “clubhouses” or as “ceremonial houses” (Soudsky in Thorpe 1996:35).
It is also possible that “primary processing” of the grain was carried out in some of the longhouses. Malting, a primary process
in the conversion of grain into malts and ale was probably the activity concerned here. Modderman proposes that the grain
distribution and control may have been in the hands of a priest or other community leader who controlled a central granary for
the village (in Mitford ed, p275). Central control of grain might reflect its importance and value as a crop or it may simply
have been more practical to store the grain collectively.
Anick Coudart (1987,1991) has interpreted the Linearbandkeramik as having been a largely egalitarian society but
with elements of status differentiation of individuals within the group as a whole. She interprets the grain cultivation and its
subsequent storage and processing as being a collective activity among extended family groups. Ehrenburg (1992) points out
that in Linearbandkeramik burials querns are found in association with only female burials and not with males. She concludes
that women “would almost certainly have been responsible for most, if not all, the agricultural work” (Ehrenburg 1992:90).
This would include the cooking of food and the preparation and processing of grain as well as tending crops in the field and
There are many problems in the interpretation of the Linearbandkeramik culture not the least of which is the lack of
well-preserved floor and hearth evidence. This makes a complete understanding of this early Neolithic culture difficult. In spite
of this difficulty it seems clear that they had an adequate material culture and the necessary requirements for the processing of
grain by malting, mashing and fermentation. These activities were very likely to have been carried out by women in the
community who were the primary crop producers and processors.
3. Late Mesolithic/Early Neolithic: 5th/4th Millennia BC
Ertebolle and Ellerbeck cultures: N. Europe, S. Sweden:
At the same time that the early agricultural communities described above became established there were other
European groups that maintained the Mesolithic lifestyle. Fishing, gathering and hunting were their main subsistence
activities. These groups, whose settlement remains have been discovered along the coastline of Denmark, in southern Sweden
and in northern Germany as well as by several inland lakes, are referred to as the Ertebolle or Ellerbeck cultures and they are
believed to have lived in permanent settled communities (Bogucki 1988:108).
Characteristic forms of Ertebolle pottery. The containers have pointed bases and are not drawn to scale (left from Muller
1918 and right Burenhult 1982). The shallow bowl is a blubber lamp (after Tilley 1996 figs 1.14,1.31)
Anders Fischer (1981) investigated the distribution of Danubian shaft hole axes made by Linearbandkeramik groups.
He believes that contact and trade must have occurred since some of these axes have also been found in late Ertebolle contexts.
Therefore, trade in perishable goods such as furs and foodstuffs probably also occurred between these groups. The Mesolithic
communities continued their fishing, hunting and gathering lifestyle for almost a millennium alongside the well established
Northern Linearbandkeramik groups (figure 4.2). The Ertebolle and Ellerbeck cultures “were not starving foragers waiting to
be enlightened by the appearance of food production” (Bogucki 1987:48). They were complex social groups living
successfully by fishing, foraging and hunting, as well as by trading with other groups.
When the transition to agriculture occurred it was a swift process, taking place over just a few generations
(Blankholm 1987:156). Reasons for this sudden transition are still unclear and they are much debated. Rowley Conwy’s (1984)
model of the eventual acceptance of agriculture because of a seasonal decline in marine resources, specifically the oyster, is
questioned by Blankholm. He points out that only the coastal groups were dependent upon the oyster as a food resource and he
concludes, “there is still a long way to go before we may adequately outline and explain the transition to farming in Southern
Scandinavia.” (Blankholm 1987:161).
Troels Smith (1967) believes the Ertebolle