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    Civilization (And Beer): An Enormous Improvement On The Lack Thereof
    By Norm Benson | June 4th 2014 12:45 PM | 8 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Norm

    I am a registered professional forester and also a home brewer of beer who lives in northern California. I write about environmental concerns; especially...

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    Fermentation Came First


    Evidence mounts almost daily that beer started humans on the path to civilization even before the invention of agriculture some twelve thousand years ago. A paper in Evolutionary Anthropology says that, based on tests of artifacts, cereal grains were collected (sometimes from areas as far as sixty miles away) “for the purposes of brewing beer” to be used in feasts, which then “led to domestication...”

    That is, brewing led to the collecting of seeds for cultivation. And, feasts in prehistoric times were given for much the same reasons as they are today: to mark religious events or to impress others and also to make social, political, and commercial connections.The Brewer designed and e...


    In “Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages,” Dr. Pat McGovern says, “Wherever we look…we see that the principal way to communicate with the gods or the ancestors involves an alcoholic beverage…”

    As examples, he mentions “the wine of the Eucharist” and “the beer presented to the Sumerian goddess Ninkasi…”

    Fermenting Agriculture

    Eventually, people decided planting and tending was easier than going long distances to get the needed grain.

    Agriculture raised the density of the desired plants in an area and the people as well. Farmers stayed in one place for a while and had an affinity for places that had settlements since they could sell or trade their surplus grain there. In the settlements, people specialized at particular jobs and purchased or traded for goods and services they wanted. (See: "How Ancient Trade Changed the World") Grain (and beer) had the advantage of being storable: it would last for relatively long periods, and as a result, could be transported.

    That meant farmers could bring their grain to market and make a profit, and others could profit from shipping it abroad. In many ways, globalization occurred during the Bronze Age and probably earlier in Neolithic times.

    Bar Tabs, Invoices, And The Tax Man

    Because people were now living in greater concentrations, the amount of stuff around became more than what one person might be able to remember—it had to be written down. Pictures of goods soon became stylized symbols, which could be made faster and got the point across. Sumerians (in what is present-day Iraq) started making notations for bookkeeping about 5,000 years ago. “The first examples of writing,” Heather Whipps says in an article on LiveScience.com, “were pictograms used by temple officials to keep track of the inflows and outflows of the city's grain and animal stores which, in the bigger Sumerian urban centers such as Ur, were big enough to make counting by memory unreliable.”Then, just as in today, taxes on alcohol provided revenue to the ruler, so reports had to be submitted. One of our oldest examples of writing is a receipt for beer.

    In 2050 BCE, a scribe named Ur-Amma accepted about four and a half quarts of the “best beer” from a brewer named Alulu.

    The Rest, As They Say, Is History

    The advent of farming was both helpful and harmful depending on where you looked. Farming massively disrupts the landscape (often through deforestation) to grow food or fiber.

    Yet, compared to a nomadic or hunter-gatherer lifestyle, farming used much less land, freeing the rest to revert to a more natural state. “The remarkable thing about farming, when it was invented 10,000 years ago,” says science writer Matt Ridley, “was how much smaller its footprint was.” According to Ridley, the first farmers needed about one percent as much land as the hunter-gatherers needed.So, to recap, civilization came about because of agriculture, and agriculture happened because humans chased a beer buzz.

    Civilization, and its improving living standards, means we have time to do something besides just toiling to stay alive. Civilization, and its specialization of labor, allows us the time to set aside a day to remember the world on which we depend. As poet John Ciardi said, “Fermentation and civilization are inseparable.”

    Cheers! Prost! Salud!

    Civilization Is An Enormous Improvement On The Lack Thereof. - P. J. O’Rourke

    Comments

    The diets of gatherer/hunters were healthier than those of the village/town/city people that succeeded them.

    The land usage footprint of the latter may have been smaller, but the toll taken on the environment was immeasurably greater. Agriculture, and the animal husbandry that later accompanied it, was responsible for the denuding and desiccation of much of the Mediterranean and Middle/Near East.

    On another note, the article seems to support the idea that agriculture was not adopted to feed growing populations, but rather for religious/social purposes, with dedicated food production and the concomitant population increases occurring afterwards.

    Norm Benson
    "The diets of gatherer/hunters were healthier than those of the village/town/city people that succeeded them."

    Yes. This from The Economist (2007): "About 12,000 years ago people embarked on an experiment called agriculture and some say that they, and their planet, have never recovered. Farming brought a population explosion, protein and vitamin deficiency, new diseases and deforestation. Human height actually shrank by nearly six inches after the first adoption of crops in the Near East."

    "The land usage footprint of the latter may have been smaller, but the toll taken on the environment was immeasurably greater"

    There is some evidence that we have already hit "peak farmland" and the number of acres under the plow are dropping. See Jesse Ausebel for his thesis.

    As for the smaller ecological footprint of the hunter-gatherers, this from The Economist article: "Returning to hunter-gatherers, Mr LeBlanc argues (in his book 'Constant Battles') that all was not well in ecological terms, either. Homo sapiens wrought havoc on many ecosystems as Homo erectus had not. There is no longer much doubt that people were the cause of the extinction of the megafauna in North America 11,000 years ago and Australia 30,000 years before that. The mammoths and giant kangaroos never stood a chance against co-ordinated ambush with stone-tipped spears and relentless pursuit by endurance runners."

    "the article seems to support the idea that agriculture was not adopted to feed growing populations, but rather for religious/social purposes, with dedicated food production and the concomitant population increases occurring afterwards"

    This from an article about Dr Pat McGovern and his book, Uncorking the Past: In Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages – an archaeological account spiced with historical records and a hint of memoir – [McGovern] wrote, “Wherever we look…we see that the principal way to communicate with the gods or the ancestors involves an alcoholic beverage, whether it is the wine of the Eucharist, the beer presented to the Sumerian goddess Ninkasi, the mead of Vikings, or the elixir of an Amazonian or African tribe.” Alcohol’s significance doesn’t end there, according to the archaeologist, as it also influences humanity’s social growth. Drinking together is a basic human activity that, in addition to sustainment, leads civilizations to cultivate the land.
    Norm Questioning green dogma since 1972.
    Anthro is 10% (at best) observation and 90% (at least) speculation - in short, pseudoscience.

    Or perhaps they picked the God-gathering spot for some reason obscure to us; sticking that spot with regular mobs of people may have led to debris including sends of what folks gathered and ate, fermented or otherwise, to accumulate in a spot of regular gathering, and someone noticed the concentration of 'volunteer' vegetation of desirable types...

    Maybe, just maybe, folks needed a strong brew to get by life's everyday aches and pains! Yes. let's never forget to mention religious ceremonies and such, but I bet folks drank then like now, to NUMB the pains of LIFE!!!!

    Norm Benson
    Or perhaps because they like to get a buzz.

    In his book, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages (book review here), Dr. Patrick McGovern points out that animals apparently like to get drunk. One example, the  birds: "Birds are also known to gorge themselves on fermenting fruit. Cedar waxwings feasting on hawthorn fruit have suffered ethanol poisoning and even death. Robins fall off their perches. Maturing fruits concentrate sugar, flavor and aroma compounds, and colorants that announce to birds and mammals that they are ripe for eating."
    Norm Questioning green dogma since 1972.
    Herbs and other medical practices may have required early agriculture and longer sea voyages introduced efforts to store nutritious supply's.

    Of course the Sumerian's were pretty specific about where they learned how to brew beer, and domesticate Flora and Fauna. They say all that they knew was because of their gods, the Annunaki. Who descended from heaven and brought us everything from Metalugry to farming. And it was the Opiate Flower that was the first cultivated crop we planted. Yes it may make people laugh about the Ancient Aliens theory. But The Sumerians said it not me.