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Brewing archaeology

March 12, 2008

The latest edition of the anthropology (in the American sense) blog carnival Four Stone Hearth came courtesy of Archaeoporn while we were away, and we’re delighted that our post on Corofin is linked to. Thanks once again to Archaeoporn for including us. The only problem with blog carnivals is that you just keep meandering the web – it leads you down many roads but certainly provides fruitful and fascinating reading.

On another matter, three weeks ago we responded to a query from our friend Chris at BLTP.

Is there anyway of comparing fulacht fiadh (is there a phonetic pronuciation guide of this for us nongaelic speakers?) to other “grain heavy” hotspots on sites. ie food stores , grinding stones etc or does the age of the sites obscure the evidence so much? Did any other ancient cultures use a similar method?

We thought the response merited a full entry.

Clear chemical evidence for brewing in Sumeria at Godin Tepe (in modern day Iran) comes from fermentation vessels where there were pits in the ground noted by the excavators – and in the Hymn to Ninkasi (1800 BC) there is the following reference to pits in the ground:

You are the one who handles the dough,
[and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with sweet aromatics,
Ninkasi, You are the one who handles
the dough, [and] with a big shovel,
Mixing in a pit, the bappir with [date]-honey.

You are the one who bakes the bappir
in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,
Ninkasi, you are the one who bakes
the bappir in the big oven,
Puts in order the piles of hulled grains,

You are the one who waters the malt
set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates,
Ninkasi, you are the one who waters the malt
set on the ground,
The noble dogs keep away even the potentates.

You are the one who soaks the malt in a jar
The waves rise, the waves fall.
Ninkasi, you are the one who soaks
the malt in a jar
The waves rise, the waves fall.

You are the one who spreads the cooked
mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes.
Ninkasi, you are the one who spreads
the cooked mash on large reed mats,
Coolness overcomes.

You are the one who holds with both hands
the great sweet wort,
Brewing [it] with honey and wine
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)
Ninkasi, (…)
(You the sweet wort to the vessel)

The filtering vat, which makes
a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on [top of]
a large collector vat.
Ninkasi, the filtering vat,
which makes a pleasant sound,
You place appropriately on [top of]
a large collector vat.

So clearly, at the very least (from Ian Hornsey’s ‘A History of Beer and Brewing’), “bappir” dough was being mixed with “sweet aromatics” using a “big shovel… in a pit”. Meaning that a pit was integral to the brewing process in the Fertile Crescent at least 5500 years ago. Although the malting took place elsewhere and the filtering was carried out in a filter vat which led to a large collector vat, there is no description of how the temperature was controlled during the brewing! Now, admittedly, it would be idle speculation to posit that the pit was used again in the process for heating the wort, but our reading of the Hymn to Ninkasi certainly excited us during the research (and we were delighted to meet Miguel Civil who translated the Hymn – and of course yourself, Pete and Max).

As we point out in our article:

Until recently the hot rock method was used by Rauchenfels brewery, Bavaria. Here the brewers used greywacke. Sahti, an unhopped ale still served at rural feasts in Finland, is prepared by immersing hot stones into a wooden mash tun to raise the temperature and create a simple ale that is flavoured by filtering it through juniper branches. The tradition has been traced back over 500 years.

Regarding comparisons with ‘grain rich’ sites such as processing areas etc.., we’re not experts on that, but we are working with some people on a suite of tests which could be carried out at fulacht sites. When we have more info on that we’ll post it here. But as the Archaeobotanists point out further analysis of micro-residues from fulacht fiadh sites is necessary and more detailed testing and analysis methodologies need to be formulated. Frequently these sites are excavated with little thought as to their purpose and simply removed as a matter of course. Hopefully, we’ll have instigated a little more forethought and the use of more insightful and well planned research objectives in the field.

Fulacht is pronounced ‘Full-acht’ (like the ‘acht’ in ‘Achtung Minen’ or ‘Achtung Britischer Schvienhund’ or ‘Achtung Baby’) and ‘fiadh’ is pronounced ‘fia’ (like ‘see-ya’).

And (just looking through our stats) who is searching google for the ‘36ft human skeleton’ – there’s no such thing!

 

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