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The Moonshine Era

Original article in archaeology.org

United States

By ERIC A. POWELL

November/December 2020Alcohol Moonshine Still(Bridgeman Art)

Moonshine still, ca. 1920

Since the earliest days of the Colonial Period, Americans of all backgrounds have distilled spirits from crops, especially grains. In the mid-nineteenth century, the imposition of taxes on alcohol and a growing temperance movement began to drive this cottage industry underground. After Prohibition began in 1920, the market for high-proof illegal alcohol, or moonshine, soared. But, says University of Nevada, Reno, archaeologist Cassandra Mills, this shadow economy is largely lost to history. “You only get records of moonshine production when people were caught and charged,” she says.

Hoping to fill in this gap, Mills has analyzed and dated the remains of more than 100 moonshine stills in Alabama using artifacts found with them. She learned that “pot stills,” aboveground stills often constructed in prehistoric rock shelters, were popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. During Prohibition, subterranean “groundhog stills” became the dominant type. She has also identified a localized tradition of “deadman stills,” low-lying contraptions shaped like coffins, which may have been constructed by a single extended family of moonshiners in northern Alabama. Mills points out that production of prohibited spirits offered an economic lifeline to impoverished rural communities, especially during the Depression. “Thirty dollars for a jug of moonshine was nothing for Al Capone,” says Mills. “But it meant everything for a family that didn’t know where next week’s groceries were going to come from.” She hopes future research into stills will show how much chemistry, craftsmanship, and ingenuity lay behind this essential, if illicit, American tradition.

Triangle Trade

Original post archaeology.org

Barbados

By MARLEY BROWN

November/December 2020Alcohol Antigua Rum Distillery(The Stapleton Collection/Bridgeman Images)

1823 illustration of a rum distillery in AntiguaAlcohol Caribbean Punch Bowl(Courtesy Frederick H. Smith)

Punch bowlIn the 1640s, English landholders in Barbados began cultivating sugarcane after failing to compete in the tobacco market dominated by Virginia planters, beginning a revolution that would transform sugar from a rare, exotic commodity into a staple of modern life. This profound shift in global commerce was founded on a system of slavery for which millions of captive Africans were transported to plantations across the Americas. These enslaved Africans brought with them millennia-old knowledge of fermenting grains and palm sap to produce alcohol. They were indispensable in developing the process by which sugarcane juice or molasses, a byproduct of sugar refining, was fermented into alcohol and distilled, producing rum. Archaeologist Frederick Smith of North Carolina A&T State University explains that while rum began as a drink for sailors and the lower classes, it grew in popularity in both the New World and Europe. Eventually, it became an essential component of the Triangle Trade, in which valuable raw materials, including sugar, tobacco, cotton, and furs, were sent to Europe from the Americas, and manufactured goods were exchanged for enslaved people in Africa. “Rum was both a prized ingredient in punch served at elite gatherings in Europe and the colonies, and an important trade commodity in Africa,” Smith says. West Africans, he explains, also incorporated rum into religious ceremonies that survived the horrors of the journey across the Atlantic and attempts by slavers and planters to separate captives from members of their ethnic and linguistic communities. “Rum,” he says, “became a versatile substance that facilitated connection with the spiritual world and promoted group identity within enslaved communities.”

Happy 2021

Happy New Year to all!

Desert Wine

Original in archaeology.org

Israel

By DANIEL WEISS

November/December 2020Alcohol Israel Byzantine Mosaic(Photo © the Israel Museum Jerusalem, by Elie Posner)

Byzantine mosaicAlcohol Israel Byzantine Grape Seeds Gaza Jar(Courtesy Daniel Fuks, Archaeobotany Lab, Bar-Ilan University, Courtesy Davida Eisenberg-Degen, Israel Antiquities Authority, Omer, Israel)

Grape seeds and Gaza jarIn the Byzantine eravinum Gazetum, or Gaza wine, was shipped from the port of Gaza throughout the Mediterranean and beyond. “Gaza wine was considered a sweet, white luxury wine, praised by poets and mentioned in travelers’ accounts,” says archaeobotanist Daniel Fuks of Bar-Ilan University. The wine was packaged in ceramic “Gaza jars,” whose long, thin shape made them appropriate for transport via camel and boat. These jars have been recovered as far away as Britain, Germany, and Yemen, a testament to the spirit’s wide appeal.

The Negev Highlands, some 30 to 60 miles inland from Gaza, has long been considered a likely site for Gaza wine production. Texts from the fourth to seventh centuries A.D. describe vineyards there, and several large Byzantine winepresses have been discovered. Now, an archaeobotanical study led by Fuks provides clear evidence of the rise and fall of extensive grape growing in the Negev Highlands, as well as its apparent connection to the Gaza wine trade.

To track the intensity of local viticulture over time, Fuks and his team calculated the ratio of grape seeds to cereal grains from 11 trash mounds at three sites. They found the proportion of grape seeds rose from practically nothing in the third century to modest levels in the fourth to mid-fifth centuries. It peaked in the early sixth century before dropping sharply in the mid-sixth to mid-seventh centuries. The percentage of Gaza jars among the pottery in the trash mounds followed a strikingly similar trajectory. According to Fuks, this suggests that from roughly the fourth to sixth centuries, local farmers developed a commercial scale of viticulture connected to Mediterranean trade via Gaza.

Many scholars have linked the decline in the market for Gaza wine to the Islamic conquest of the region in the mid-seventh century. Fuks’ findings, however, indicate grape production in the Negev Highlands fell off a century earlier. Among the possible explanations, he says, are global cooling that may have led to unusually destructive flooding in the area and the outbreak of the Justinian plague in A.D. 541, which could have eroded demand for luxury goods throughout the region and reduced the supply of farmworkers.

Forging Wari Alliances


original in archaeology.org

Peru

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

November/December 2020Alcohol Peru Wari Chicha Brewery(Ryan Williams/Cerro Baúl Archaeological Project)

Chicha brewery, Cerro BaúlAlcohol Peru Wari Serving Jar Deity Cup(Ryan Williams/Cerro Baúl Archaeological Project, Cyrus Banikazemi/Cerro Baúl Palace Project)

Serving jar (top), Front-Facing Deity cup (above)High atop a mountain in southern Peru, leaders at the remote administrative center of Cerro Baúl once entertained local elites with elaborate feasts that helped sustain the Wari Empire from about A.D. 600 to 1000. Central to these gatherings was the ceremonial drinking of chicha, a typically corn-based fermented beverage. Based on the size of the spaces where the feasts took place, archaeologists think that they held 50 to 100 guests who imbibed chicha from vibrantly painted ceramic cups. These cups ranged in size to reflect the status of the drinkers and were decorated with images of Wari heroes and gods, such as the Front-Facing Deity, and more local stylistic flourishes, including llamas adorning the deities’ faces. “One of the most effective ways to bring local elites into the hierarchy of the empire was through drinking Wari beer the Wari way,” says archaeologist Donna Nash of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who codirects excavations at Cerro Baúl with archaeologist Ryan Williams of the Field Museum. “Many of the stories, songs, and ideas that went with that probably would have been expressed using the iconography on the vessels guests were drinking from.”

Because Cerro Baúl was a provincial outpost on the empire’s edge, the Wari relied on local resources and on-site brewing to maintain a steady flow of chicha. Nash and Williams have unearthed a large brewery where high-status Wari women ground, boiled, and fermented corn and other ingredients to produce the beverage. Analysis of residue extracted from drinking cups, serving vessels, and oversize storage jars from the brewery’s fermentation room indicate that the drink was likely a mixture of corn and molle, or Peruvian pepper tree berries, whose seeds the archaeologists found in large quantities in the brewery’s trash pits. Although the Wari at Cerro Baúl didn’t have direct access to fresh water, the region’s temperate climate was a boon for chicha production, even during more arid periods. “Molle berries produce year-round in this environment,” says Williams. “Corn can be double or triple cropped, so you can get two to three times the corn from a single year’s harvest.”

The Wari’s self-sufficiency ensured that feasting events could continue regardless of political disruptions or trade delays elsewhere in the empire. The archaeologists have determined that even the cups the Wari used were made in a ceramic workshop on the mountaintop using high-quality clay from a source they controlled across the valley, rather than imported from the distant imperial capital.

A Taste for the Exotic

Original article in archaeology.org

Korea

By MARLEY BROWN

November/December 2020Alcohol Korea Goryeo Celadon Bottle Flask(Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo, National Museum of Korea Collection)

Longnecked celadon bottle and celadon flaskAlthough the ancient city of Xi’an in what is now central China is often considered the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, the flow of goods, people, and ideas between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia did not end there. Drinking vessels that date to Korea’s Goryeo Period (ca. A.D. 918–1392) suggest that imported spirits, including grape wines, a distilled anise-flavored drink called arak, and a fermented dairy product known as kumis, inspired artisans to craft novel types of ceramic containers to hold these newly enjoyed beverages. “New kinds of alcohol led to a proliferation in vessel shapes,” says art historian In-Sung Kim Han of SOAS University of London. She explains that many traditional East Asian alcoholic substances made from grains such as rice, millet, and barley, were thick and porridge-like. Pre-Goryeo vessels uncovered during archaeological excavations, mostly of tombs, suggest that these were primarily consumed from drinking bowls. More delicate cups from the same period were probably reserved for drinking tea and filtered rice wine, which was relatively rare.

Han suggests that while medieval Korea is often thought of as having been closed off to the rest of the world, the Goryeo Kingdom’s contact with nomadic groups to the west kept it in touch with global trends and foreign commodities, including alcoholic beverages. Particularly after the kingdom became part of the Mongol Empire in 1270, elite members of Goryeo society adopted some of the consumption habits of their counterparts across Central Asia and the Islamic world, where alcohol was widely available despite its prohibition in the Koran. One particular type of long-necked bottle introduced during the Goryeo Period, which was used to store wine, appears to have come to Korea from Islamic Persia. “It seems that the tastes of the upper class in any era tend toward the cosmopolitan,” Han says. The Goryeosa, a history of the kingdom compiled in the fifteenth century, describes one Goryeo ruler who began wearing Mongolian clothing, sporting a pigtail hairstyle, and taking part in large-scale hunts, just like other princes across Eurasia. “Despite his courtiers’ criticisms,” Han says, “he and his immediate followers pursued a worldly lifestyle, including enthusiasm for exotic drinks.”


first published by archaeology.org

Greece

By BENJAMIN LEONARD

November/December 2020c(Angelafoto/Getty Images)

Symposium painting, Tomb of the Diver, Paestum, ItalyAlcohol Greece Kylix Skyphos(American School of Classical Studies at Athens: Agora Excavations)

Kylix (top), Skyphos (above)Ancient Greek vases frequently depict the revels of men participating in the symposium, an intimate drinking party held in a private home, as well as the consequences of excessive consumption that may have occurred during such gatherings. But just how much wine, mixed with water in a bowl called a krater, would a group have consumed in the course of a typical symposium in early fifth-century B.C. Athens? To answer this question, archaeologist Kathleen Lynch of the University of Cincinnati and independent scholar Richard Bidgood calculated the capacity of serving vessels and drinking cups, including kylikes and skyphoi, excavated from early fifth-century B.C. houses in the Athenian Agora, the city’s main marketplace. Assuming each kylix was filled to just over half an inch below its rim—a level at which reclining guests could swill, but not spill, their wine—they estimated that the average cup’s capacity was roughly equivalent to that of a can of soda. Thus, a single krater could hold a few rounds of drinks for a moderate-size group.

Even if the krater were refilled throughout the night, Lynch explains, this suggests that symposiasts wanted to prolong the evening’s festivities without going overboard. The researchers also discovered that kylikes from a given house held varying amounts, even if they appeared to all be around the same size. “The symposium’s emphasis on equality was underscored by everyone having the perception of the same amount of wine,” says Lynch. “Even if it was technically a bit different, they wanted to look around the room and see people with similar-size cups filled to a similar level, so that no one felt that somebody was getting too much.”

Happy Thanksgiving everyone. On this occasion I am at home celebrating with only my husband. Stay safe and well!

Ancientfoods

Cornucopia, horn of plenty Cornucopia, horn of plenty

Original Article:

STEPHENIE LIVINGSTON, November 18, 2015

news.fl.edu

It’s that time of year when children make cardboard turkeys and draw the Mayflower, while we prepare to fill our tables with stuffing and pumpkin pie the way most of us imagine the Pilgrims did at the first Thanksgiving in 1621.

But there’s just one catch, according to archaeologists at the Florida Museum of Natural History: The Pilgrims’ Thanksgiving wasn’t the first.

The nation’s real first Thanksgiving took place more than 50 years earlier near the Matanzas River in St. Augustine, Florida, when Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilés and 800 soldiers, sailors and settlers joined local Native Americans in a feast that followed a Mass of Thanksgiving, according to Kathleen Deagan, distinguished research curator emerita of historical archaeology at the museum, located on the University of Florida campus.

Instead of flat-top hats and oversized buckles, conquistadors wore…

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First posted in archaeology.org
Iran

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

November/December 2020Alcohol Achaemenid Tribute Bearers Relief(HIP/Art Resource, NY)

Tribute bearers, Achaemenid reliefAlcohol Achaemenid Gold Rhyton(Museum of Iran/Bridgeman Images)

Gold rhytonFor the kings of the Achaemenid Empire, who ruled much of the ancient Near East from 550 to 330 B.C., there was little—apart from hunting lions and conquering the world—that rivaled a rhyton of fine wine. But for these powerful potentates, wine was not just a pleasurable pastime. It was also not, despite what the fifth-century B.C. Greek historian Herodotus would have people believe, evidence of the kings’ profligate behavior and poor decision-making skills characterized by zealous over-imbibing. “Wine drinking and distribution not only embodied refinement, wealth, and power for the Achaemenids, but also provided an opportunity for rewarding loyalty and implementing political strategy,” says linguist Ashk Dahlén of Uppsala University. “Banquets were inherently public, political acts. They were central to the construction of royal identity and demonstrated that the empire was a supreme player on the world stage.”

At such splendid affairs, wine was served by the Royal Cup Bearer, a role known from records such as the Persepolis Administrative Archives to have been one of the highest trust. The bearer would have been an excellent sommelier and, says Dahlén, well versed in different wines and the particular customs associated with them. “The variety of wine at the king’s table was not a matter of sheer self-indulgence,” he says, “but served as a symbol of the king’s power and his capacity to attract tribute.” Unlike Greek symposiums, where the presence of “proper” women was not allowed, in the Achaemenid court, women were fully included, says Dahlén, all part of what he calls the “ancient Iranian dolce vita.”

Spirits for the Dead

Article from archaeology.org

Egypt

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

November/December 2020Alcohol Egypt Nakht Tomb(Lebrecht History/Bridgeman Images)

Tomb of NakhtAs early as the Predynastic period, beginning in the mid-fifth millennium B.C., the Egyptians placed wine jars in tombs as offerings to the dead. References to wine dating to the 1st and 2nd Dynasties have been identified on ceramic jar seals found in the burial grounds at Abydos and Saqqara, and the word for wine, “irp,” appears on 2nd Dynasty stelas. By the 4th Dynasty, in the mid-third millennium B.C., tomb designers had begun to illustrate viticulture and winemaking on tomb walls. For archaeologist Sofia Fonseca of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, such imagery offers valuable insights into the vintner’s entire process. “We have this idea that viticulture and winemaking originated in the ancient Near East, and that European wine culture is a legacy from Greece and Rome,” she says. “But the truth is that, starting more than 4,500 years ago, and for the next two millennia of Egyptian history, we have images that show a traditional process similar to those winemakers in Mediterranean regions are still using. By studying these images, we can have a real change in the paradigm of wine history and bring awareness to the influence that Egyptian wine culture had on Mediterranean wine culture.”

While the Egyptians drank both red and white wine, only red wine is depicted in the tombs. “It’s interesting to see how the symbolism of wine is deeply related to the color red,” says Fonseca. “This recalls the relationship between wine and the blood of Osiris, the god of death and resurrection, who is called the Lord of Wine in the late Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts. It also recalls the relationship between wine and the reddish color of the Nile during the annual flood, when iron-rich sediment flows into the river from the mountains of Ethiopia at just the time when the grape harvest begins.”

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