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The batches of chicha cooling before they are strained and added to a ceramic fermentation jar. Credit: Photo courtesy of the Cerro Baúl Archaeological Project

 

Original Article:

ByElizabeth Shockman

pri.org

 

Towering 2,000 feet above its surroundings in the southern Peruvian Andes, the Cerro Baúl mesa stands alone in a sun-baked, arid mountain zone. It was here that the Wari culture, a mighty empire that predated the Incas, built a colony — and a massive brewery.

“The Wari were one of the earliest expansive states in the Andes,” says anthropologist Patrick Ryan Williams. “They emerged in the central highlands of Peru some time before 600 AD. … At the height of their reign they actually held sway over an area 800 miles along the Andes.”

That’s similar to the same distance as between New York City and Jacksonville, Florida today — a really big expanse of land.

And, Williams says, they encountered all these different tribal groups and ethnic groups of different peoples that were incorporated into their realm. “The beer story is one that plays a lot in terms of understanding how they did that.”

The beer that Williams and his wife, anthropologist Donna Nash, are studying is not actually a beer. It’s a drink called chicha — a word used to describe fermented grains, fruit products or other things that were found in the native Americas.

In the case of the Cerro Baúl mesa, the chicha appears to have been made from corn flavored with a small Peruvian pepper berry.

Nash and Williams pieced together the ancient recipe based on pepper berry dregs discovered at the site and also chemical residues found on recovered archaeological vessels used in the brewing process.

The brewery, according to Nash and Williams, was capable of pumping out 500-gallon batches of the pepper berry-flavored corn beer, or chicha de molle. And the drink, while most likely consumed by the Wari on a daily basis, was also used for trade negotiations, calendar events, celebrations, marriages and funerals.

Nash, together with her team and a group of Peruvian women, was able to create a chicha brew with a chemical content very similar to the ancient residues found on excavated vessel fragments.

For anyone interested in getting a taste of the ancient drink, Chicago’s Field Museum has a chicha-inspired beer on tap for sale in their bistro.

“It’s pretty good,” Williams says, “It’s got a little bit of a sour taste to it. It does use the purple corn and the Peruvian pepper berries, which have been imported from Peru. But it’s also a beer so it has hops and a barley malt, so it’s inspired, not a recreation of this exact recipe.”

Williams and Nash are continuing further excavation of the Cerro Baúl mesa site, but they say the excavated brewery has already told them a lot about the ancient Wari people.

“The Wari as an empire liked to do expensive and elaborate things. And building a citadel on top of a mesa was one example of the kind of expense they went to as part of their empire,” Nash says.

“I think they were really trying to impress their neighbors by putting a brewery on top of this isolated mountain with no natural source of water no food,” Williams adds, “They were trying to show off.”

A Wari drinking vessel from Cerro Baúl with a half-gallon capacity, depicting the face of a principal Wari deity.

 

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At its peak in the 14th century, Casas Grandes was home to as many as 3,000 people, likely serving as a trade center, trafficking goods and channelling cultural influences between what’s now central Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

At its peak in the 14th century, Casas Grandes was home to as many as 3,000 people, likely serving as a trade center, trafficking goods and channelling cultural influences between what’s now central Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

The evidence of corn beer found at Casas Grandes dates to the same cultural period as this figurine, from 1200 to 1450 CE. (Photo by Vassil)

The evidence of corn beer found at Casas Grandes dates to the same cultural period as this figurine, from 1200 to 1450 CE. (Photo by Vassil)

 

Original Article:

western digs.org

POSTED BY BLAKE DE PASTINO ON MARCH 10, 2016

 

The last meals of men and women buried centuries ago in the ancient city of Casas Grandes were dominated by corn, new research has found — from ground maize, to corn smut, to what archaeologists say is the first conclusive evidence of corn beer in the Greater Southwest.

And these clues were found in a long-overlooked source: the fossilized plaque on the teeth of the dead.

Archaeologists say these and other findings are providing important insights into the diet and lifeways of one of the most influential prehistoric cities in the region.

“The results of this study offer some of the first hard evidence for the production of corn beer, consumption of corn smut, and food processing methods,” said Daniel King, a graduate student in anthropology at Brigham Young University, who led the research.

“It is a step forward in understanding Casas Grandes human-plant interactions, especially diet.”

Casas Grandes, also known as Paquime, was a large settlement on the fringes of the Mogollon culture to the north and Mesoamerica to the south.

At its peak in the 14th century, the city was home to as many as 3,000 people, likely serving as a trade center, trafficking goods and channelling cultural influences between what’s now central Mexico and the southwestern U.S.

Situated in Chihuahua some 130 kilometers, or 80 miles, from the New Mexico border, Casas Grandes was excavated in the 1950s and ‘60s, revealing hundreds of human remains — some buried, some dismembered and placed in urns, others apparently left out in the open.

Now, a new project undertaken by Dr. Anne Katzenberg of the University of Calgary is revisiting those remains, in an effort to learn more about the people who lived and worked in the prehistoric city.

And King and his colleagues sought to do their part, by analyzing the teeth of the dead.

Specifically, they studied the tooth calculus of more than a hundred sets of human remains.

“Calculus is fossilized tooth tartar,” King said.

“If teeth aren’t cleaned regularly, then the tartar, which can trap pretty much anything in it, such as algae, plants, fungus, or fibers, will slowly mineralize with everything stuck in it and turn into calculus, while the microremains turn into microfossils.”

To get at this microscopic evidence, the team recovered tartar from the remains of 110 people found within the ancient city and from other sites in the Casas Grandes River valley, all buried between 700 and 1450 CE.

Of those 110 samples, 63 yielded some sort of microscopic remains.

The most common traces the researchers found were starch granules, mostly bits of corn, which accounted for 36 percent of the samples.

Also common were phytoliths — tiny mineral fragments — that came from grasses and squash.

And more than 10 percent of the samples revealed the presence of corn smut — an edible, nutritious fungus that grows on corn and is still considered a delicacy, known today by its Aztec name, huitlacoche.

But while corn appears often in the dental record of Casas Grandes’ dead, that’s not necessarily a reflection of the population’s diet as a whole, King noted.

“Given the nature of calculus, any microremains recovered are going to be from the last days or weeks of the person’s life, maybe a month or two, but not longer,” he explained.

“So reconstructing diet, in the long term sense, doesn’t work with calculus.

“However,” he added, “identifying specific foodstuffs — like corn beer, fish, chile, et cetera — is useful, as many of them can’t be seen in the results of other studies.”

And in this regard, King said, the “most interesting results” of his team’s research was the discovery of corn alcohol.

Three of the samples revealed granules of maize that bore the unmistakable signs of fermentation, he said — including swelling and fragmentation caused by being heated at three distinct temperatures, and striations created by the fermenting process.

These bloated, broken grains seem to be the result of making chicha — a corn beer whose use has been recorded in Central and South America for as much as 5,000 years, King said.

In those cultures, brewing and consuming chicha is thought to have held ceremonial value, but it may have held other functions as well, he noted.

“We don’t have enough information to determine [chicha’s] use,” King said.

“Based on ethnographic accounts, we default to ‘ritual’, although I always think that’s a cop-out answer.

“We know modern groups used corn beer or similar drinks in religious ceremonies, so that’s all we can go off of.”

In addition, King noted, the burial contexts of the samples haven’t yet been analyzed, so archaeologists can’t yet draw conclusions about whether beer consumption was limited, for example, to a certain social class.

Moreover, he added, this is the first “substantial evidence” of corn beer in the Greater Southwest, so it’s possible that chicha may have served a different function in Casas Grandes than it did in Mesoamerica.

When it comes to beer in the southwestern archaeological record, he said, “almost nothing exists for northern Mexico or the American Southwest. The results we posted may be the first of their kind for this region.”

Some ceramic fragments found near Casas Grandes, for example, have displayed microscopic “pitting” that could have been caused by fermentation, he noted.

Granules of corn found in the tooth calculus of people buried at Casas Grandes show signs of swelling and fragmentation that are typical of fermentation, researchers say. (Photo courtesy King et al.)

Granules of corn found in the tooth calculus of people buried at Casas Grandes show signs of swelling and fragmentation that are typical of fermentation, researchers say. (Photo courtesy King et al.)

 

And a study in 2007 found traces consistent with fermentation in potsherds from Ancestral Puebloan settlements in New Mexico; but researchers cautioned that the fermentation may have been accidental, and the findings were described as “provocative but inconclusive.”

King’s new findings, then, raise the question of how the custom of brewing corn beer arrived at Casas Grandes, as well as when, and by whom.

“The best archaeological evidence we have for corn beer and other alcoholic drinks comes from Peru or Mesoamerica,” King said.

“So, if anything, the idea for corn fermentation came up from the south, but that is still conjecture at this point.”

As for when beer came to town, his findings do provide some insights.

His team studied teeth dating back as far as the year 700, but the fermented granules were only detected on remains dated to the so-called Medio Period of Casas Grandes — a cultural heyday that spanned from about 1200 CE to 1450 CE — suggesting that chicha might have been a relatively recent phenomenon.

“Our results show that maize was used throughout various time periods, but evidence for maize fermentation only comes from the Medio period,” he said.

“This is not to say such use did not exist in the [earlier] period, only that our results don’t currently support that idea.”

But whether it was brewed, chewed, or cooked, the corn of Casas Grandes may, in time, teach us volumes, not just about diet, but also about the social interactions that shaped one of the most important cultural crossroads in ancient North America.

“The continuity of maize use throughout the two time periods is important,” King said.

“It may suggest a continuity of people, thereby supporting an in situ development.

“Turning maize into beer during the Medio period, however, could suggest an influx of new ideas — or perhaps even people — during that time, which might indicate outside influence — either foreigners coming to Casas Grandes, or locals traveling and coming back with new ideas.”

 

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Tiffiny Tung excavates at Beringa, Peru (Courtesy Tiffiny Tung)

Tiffiny Tung excavates at Beringa, Peru (Courtesy Tiffiny Tung)

Wari Ale gets its bright pink color from Peruvian molle berries and purple corn. (Courtesy of The Field Museum)

Wari Ale gets its bright pink color from Peruvian molle berries and purple corn. (Courtesy of The Field Museum)

 

Original Article:

news.vanderbilt.edu

by Liz Entman | Feb. 24,2016

After a long, dusty day excavating an archaeological site, nothing quite hits the spot like a frosty beverage. For Tiffiny Tung, associate professor of anthropology, all that hard work is about to pay off twice with the debut of a custom beer inspired by the fruits of her labor.

Wari Ale, a light, delicate beer whose rosy tint derives from bright pink molle berries and purple corn, will soon be available to connoisseurs over 21 at Chicago’s Field Museum and select Chicago retailers. The beer, crafted by Off Color Brewing, is based on a recipe treasured by an ancient Peruvian empire called the Wari and links to the museum’s permanent Ancient Americas exhibit.

“Archaeologists have known for a really long time that corn beer, or chicha, was socially important in the Andes,” said Tung. The Incas used it as a kind of political or social currency to build and solidify relationships with nearby lords.

But, while excavating a site called Beringa associated with the pre-Inca Wari culture, Tung found evidence that the Wari brewed their own version of chicha using the molle berry, the fruit of a local pepper plant.

Tung’s discovery was important, because 117 miles away at a site called Cerro Baúl, Ryan Williams, associate curator of anthropology at The Field Museum and a lead researcher of that excavation, had come upon the remains of a chicha de molle brewery, which he believes would have been able to produce 1,500–2,000 liters of beer in a single batch. Like Tung, Williams found evidence that, as corn beer did for the Incas, chicha de molle played a significant relationship-building role to the Wari.

“Tiffiny’s excavation at Beringa was key to understanding that Wari chicha de molle was a brewing phenomenon that went beyond our work at Cerro Baúl and was part of the larger Wari imperial project,” said Williams.

“It’s also really delicious,” said Tung.

The Field Museum first partnered with Off Color Brewing to produce a lager called Tooth and Claw brewed in honor of Sue, the museum’s Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. Williams hopes the museum will continue to be able to offer more beers inspired by the museum’s exhibits, collections and research in the future.

Media Inquiries:
Liz Entman, (615) 322-NEWS
Liz.entman@vanderbilt.edu

 

 

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