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Bronze age brewery unearthed in Cyprus

Archaeologists working in Western Cyprus are raising a glass to the discovery of a Bronze Age ‘micro-brewery’, one of the earliest ever found.

Bronze age brewery unearthed in Cyprus
Archaeologists working in western Cyprus with their discovery of a Bronze Age 'microbrewery' [Credit: University of Manchester]
The team who excavated the two by two metre domed mud-plaster structure, led by Dr Lindy Crewe from The University of Manchester, have demonstrated it was used as a kiln to dry malt to make beer three-and-a half-thousand years ago.

According to Dr Crewe, beers of different flavours would have been brewed from malted barley and fermented with yeasts with an alcoholic content of around 5%. The yeast would have either been wild or produced from fruit such as grape or fig.

Dr Crewe is based jointly in Archaeology at the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures and Manchester Museum -  both at the University.

Since 2007, she has been leading the excavation at the Early–Middle Bronze Age settlement of Kissonerga-Skalia, near Paphos.

Bronze age brewery unearthed in Cyprus
A mud-plaster domed structure, which is thought to have been used as a kiln to dry malt [Credit: University of Manchester]
She said: “Archaeologists believe beer drinking was an important part of society from the Neolithic onwards and may have even been the main reason that people began to cultivate grain in the first place. But it’s extremely rare to find the remains of production preserved from thousands of years ago so we’re very excited.  The excavation of the malting kiln with associated sets of pottery types and tools left in place gives us a fantastic opportunity to look at Bronze Age toolkits and figure out techniques and recipes.”

The oven discovered by the archaeologists was positioned at one end of a 50 metres square courtyard with a plastered floor.

They found grinding tools and mortars which may have been used to break down the grain after it was malted, a small hearth and cooking pots made of clay to cook the beer gently.

They also found juglets, which they believe probably contained yeast additives or sweeteners to produce beers of different strengths or flavours. The beers’ ingredients were found by the team as carbonised seeds.

She added: “Beer was commonly drunk because it is more nutritious than bread and less likely to contain harmful pathogens than drinking water which can make you ill.

Bronze age brewery unearthed in Cyprus
Archaeologists also uncovered grinding tools and mortars that may have been used to break down the grains after they had undergone the malting process, a small hearth, cooking pots and juglets, which likely contained yeast additives or beer sweeteners [Credit: University of Manchester]
“But alcoholic beverages were also used to oil the wheels of business and pleasure in much the same way as today: work brought communities together for tasks such as bringing in the harvest or erecting special buildings. Instead of payment, participants are rewarded with a special feast, often involving quantities of alcohol, which also transformed the work from a chore into a social event. The people of the Bronze Age, it seems, were well aware of the relaxing properties of alcohol.”

An experimental archaeology team, led by Ian Hill of HARP Archaeology, recreated the drying kiln using traditional techniques, to test to test Dr Crewe’s theory in August .

The modern version used hot air to produce a temperature of 65° C – perfect conditions for heating and drying grains but still preserving it’s enzymes and proteins.

He said: “After the beers had been strained, we felt they were all pretty drinkable, though some varieties were better than others. The grape was less pleasant -  a bit too sweet– the outcomes are less reliable when using wild yeasts, compared to brewers yeast, but the fig beer was definitely the most popular.”

An article on the excavation of the beer-making installation at Kissonerga-Skalia and how it can inform on Cypriot Bronze Age society has been published this month in the journal Levant.

Source: University of Manchester [November 29, 2012]

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