January 25, 2014
Ancient Ale: Egyptian Beer Maker’s Tomb Uncovered
CNN says that as well as being an expert brewer, Khonso Em Heb was in charge of the royal storehouses during the Pharaonic Ramesside period, from 1,292 – 1,069 BC. On top of this, he was responsible for keeping the gods happy by providing them with regular offerings of beer. Mohamed Ibrahim, Egypt’s antiquities minister, described Khonso Em Heb as the chief “maker of beer for gods of the dead.”
The team discovered the tomb by accident while cleaning another one. But the find is hugely significant because of the superb frescoes within it, which add to Egyptologists’ broader understanding of the period. Daily life and religious rituals are covered.
One such daily ritual was the consumption of beer, an important part of Egyptian society at that time, and it was used in rituals and ceremonies, as well as being drunk by children. It was integral in the lives of people with status, but also ever present among the working people; workers in the camp at the site of the most famous pyramids at Giza got beer as part of their daily rations, in fact wages were sometimes paid entirely in beer. Modern workers may say that is just time saving efficiency.
The drink itself sounds a little intense. Made from malt or barley, it was thick and sweet and had to be sucked out from under a thick layer of froth that formed on the top. It was sweetened using dates.
It is discoveries like this that make us feel closer to history and to our fellow man from ages gone by, Knowing that they did the same things as us day to day, and imagining them enjoying themselves instead of just fighting wars or otherwise constantly dicing with death, as history can sometimes appear to us. Amazingly, though, there are much more ancient indications of alcohol being made than that of Khonso Em Heb. The earliest evidence comes from Jiahu in China, from 7000–6600 BC. The earliest chemical evidence of barley beer comes from western Iran, around 3500–3100 BC.
Beer is extremely popular in Japan, at least as popular as the sake thought of as being the national drink, and the team from Waseda University in Tokyo will be proud to have contributed to a bit of beer knowledge. They and their colleagues have to work quickly though, tombs such as this begin to degrade immediately after being opened, and although Egypt’s dry weather means that this problem is less severe than in other parts of the world it is still a race against the clock, in a place where so many discoveries are made that it becomes difficult to keep up. Add to this the turmoil of Egypt’s political situation, which has disrupted archaeological activity, and the Egyptologists will be earning a few cold ones themselves for their efforts.
Image Credit: Thinkstock