Many ceramics and pottery enthusiasts don’t fully realize just how ancient the industry is. It all started around 24,000 BC, when people discovered the magic of mixing clay with water and firing the resulting substance. At that time, creations were mostly represented by human and animal figurines, fired in partially dug down kilns.
Almost 10,000 years later, however, the situation has changed drastically, and functional vessels for storing food and beverages became staples in established communities, such as Mesopotamia and India (interestingly, the bricks were invented around the same time). From there, the industry started experiencing a series of major advancements, and even these days new techniques and uses are still being invented.
Pottery preserves extremely well and survives centuries and millenniums underground with minimal damage. Because of that, the study of ceramics and pottery is a very important source of information for the archaeologists, helping better understand the past. Over sixty years of practical archaeological experience and development of many new analysis techniques allow us to keep making fascinating discoveries, learning more about our ancestors.
One of the recent findings, the residue on pottery from an archaeological site in China, suggests that beer brewing may be older than we’ve ever imagined! To be exact, the discovered recipe appears to be no less than 5,000 years old.
Moreover, contrary to previous assumptions, it’s now evident that barley was likely used for beer brewing long before it was grown specifically for food. Remarkably, it was previously thought that there was no barley in China until some 1,000 years later, and the recent findings are literally rewriting the history on the go. Now we have enough evidence to assume barley was not an exotic grain for the Chinese, but an agricultural staple.
Some other discoveries from the same area confirm that people of the era have mastered a number of advanced brewing techniques, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The authors of the study note that the process of beer brewing could be “associated with the increased social complexity in the Central Plain during the fourth millennium BC”, which likely contributed to the emergence of multiple hierarchical societies in surrounding areas.
Wondering what exactly helped the researchers come to these conclusions? Turns out the thorough analysis of mysterious yellow residue gleaned from pottery funnels and pots contained traces of ingredients that were most certainly fermented together, including broomcorn millet, barley and a few other components derived from grains. The researchers also found traces of oxalate, which is a byproduct of beer brewing, typically developing during the stages of steeping, mashing, and fermentation.
The mecca of these exciting findings, Mijiaya, was excavated from 2004. It is located ear a tributary of the Wei River in northern China, in the province of Shaanxi. Other significant findings from the area include a number of ancient houses, sunk 2 to 3 meters into the ground.