The Wari Empire in Peru introduced secular, expansionist militarism to the Andes, and its culture and customs have long intrigued precolumbian experts. Recently a team of archaeologists showed the importance of beer in Wari-era diplomacy, and in so doing showed the importance of beer in archaeology.
The day started reasonably enough.
The 25-hectare summit of Cerro Baúl is known to have once been a bustling city, packed with houses and ceremonial buildings. Although archaeologists have known about these ruins since the 1970s, the exact purpose of the ceremonial areas has remained unclear.
The puzzle attracted the interest of Michael Moseley, an anthropologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Moseley has closely studied the Wari Empire, which ruled much of what is now modern-day Peru before being overtaken by the Incas around AD 1000.
Then, they discovered beer.
Through careful excavation and analysis of the site, Moseley and his fellow researchers have pieced together a story of what they think happened there: the inhabitants were beer-makers, they say. And the workers involved were probably high-class women. The researchers say the booze was probably produced for drinking ceremonies with the neighbouring Tiwanaku people, with whom the Wari competed for scarce resources in the desert environment.
This is where we all get to try our hands at archaeology. Would you take midden pollen cores? Measure isotope ratios in the ash piles? Amateur. The correct answer, of course, is to guesstimate the hooch recipe and get down Wari style.
The archaeologists tried their hand at recreating the ancient chicha recipe while visiting the region, though given the results Moseley says: “I’m not sure our ethnobotanist got the recipe right.” The result was so spicy they had to mix it with modern beer to make it drinkable.
At that point somebody discovered a clothespin:
Moseley and his colleagues also found nearly a dozen shawl pins embedded in the brewery floor. These pins, which look like long needles with flattened heads, are thought to have belonged to the most privileged Wari women.
And then things just got silly:
The archaeologists admit that the women could have thrown their pins on the floor as part of a ritual once the brewing was completed by someone else. But they point out that the pins are found throughout the ash deposits. Alternatively, the heat from the boiling vats could have made the women remove their shawls, they suggest, and the pins were lost in the process.
We don’t know for sure whether the Naked Peruvian Princess Brewers would have been discovered without chicha, but professionals always err on the side of caution.
Unless you got to the chicha before archaeologists bogarted the urn, your best chance at enjoying a fizzy, head-spinning mug of humanity’s distant past comes from Dogfish Head in Delaware. Responding to a request by archaeologists investigating ancient Phryngia, Dogfish Head reconstructed a recipe from residue in pottery recovered from the tomb of King Midas himself, in modern-day Turkey. The results were surprisingly drinkable.
See the world through golden goggles
Reaching further into the history of inebriation, archaeologists in China announced last December that they may have uncovered the very birth of beer itself, stretching back some 9000 years into the distant past. This raises the important question: which came first, civilization as we know it, or beer? Think about it.
Needless to say, Dogfish Head is on the case.
Your Friday non-beer alternative: Beaujolais season is back!
Those of you who think the annual Nouveau release is a marketing gimmick for astringent syrup can kindly pipe down. The wife and I will be attending a beaujolais party with the Pittsburgh Alliance Francaise and we plan to have a jolly time. Find out more here.