CAS Graduate Student Conference: Alcohol in the Ancient World

Speaker Abstracts

Katherine Burge, "An Old Babylonian Wine Archive from Tell Leilan"

The Eastern Lower Town palace at Tell Leilan is one of the largest dating to the Middle Bronze in northern Mesopotamia. Excavations undertaken in 1985 and 1987 uncovered about 10% of the total structure, revealing a throne room and reception area, as well as a number of small kitchens and storerooms. Four building levels were identified showing that this building served as the royal residence and administrative center for the kings of Shubat-Enlil/Shekhna for nearly a century, with Building Levels IV and III dated to the reign of Shamshi-Adad, and Building Level II attesting to the continued administration of the city under a local dynasty some decades later. Room 2 of the palace yielded around 60 tablets and 40 sealings associated with a wine archive dating to the last of these local rulers, Jakun-ašar. The tablets (brief accounts dealing with the receipt and issue of quantities of wine), as well as jars stored within the room and the door to the room itself were sealed by this king, his wife, and a few high-ranking officials. Contemporary tablets and sealings from Mari have already shown that control of the palace’s valuable wine stores was a royal prerogative, however these materials were unfortunately separated from their precise archaeological context. Room 2 of the palace at Tell Leilan was meticulously excavated and recorded using modern techniques, allowing for a more comprehensive analysis of the material found within; it preserves a living archive dealing with the administration of wine within the palace.


Annie Chan, "Milking Alcohol: The Artisanal Production of Milk Liquor and the Heritage of Pastoral Food Cultures"

Made traditionally from milk of animals including horse, camel, sheep, goat, and cattle, fermented milk products are beverages of noted nutritional and recreational value in pastoral societies. The artisanal skills of processing milk represent a key technological development in the exploitation of animal secondary products. This paper describes the method and chemistry of milk liquor (arkhi) production, an alcoholic beverage commonly distilled from kefir. It contains a higher alcohol content than the better known fermented milk beverage, kumys, and involves a longer and more complicated process of production. Prized for its subdued aroma, it is a celebratory drink consumed exclusively among the Mongols. With an ethnographic case study of Mongol culinary practices in modern day Xinjiang, I assess the economic and social importance of artisanal food production against a backdrop of rapid industrialization and state-controlled sedentarization reforms. The study observes that while the age-old tradition of making milk products domestically remains central to pastoral sustenance, initiatives to harness its value in current economic reforms are limited and inconsistent with goals of resource sustainability.


Kong Cheong and Jessica Harrison, "Dancing with the Gods: Maya Use of Balche in Ritual and Celebration"

Balche is an alcoholic beverage that has been used by the Maya since ancient times for important ceremonies such as planting and harvest rituals, betrothals and weddings, dances, and other important celebrations. Balche consumption is a critical component of Maya rituals. Balche consists of the bark of the balche tree (Lochocarpus violaceus) mixed with honey and water. The mixture is then fermented for a brief period to create a mead-like drink that may have also had hallucinogenic-effects that aid in ritual practice. In this paper, we examine the use of balche from the earliest known pre-Columbian evidence for balche consumption, to its ties to Maya identity during colonial period prohibition, to modern-day consumption of balche in the ethnographic record. Finally, we turn to residue analysis to suggest possible means of identifying balche production and consumption in the archaeological record.


Eirik de Visser, "Women and the Culture of the English Alehouses in Late Seventeenth Century England"

The world of the alehouse and tavern in late-seventeenth century England has generally been regarded as primarily male, a view that was deeply embedded in the period itself. My work illuminates the neglected area of the place of women within the public house, in consuming and buying alcohol and the unwritten conventions that underpinned social practice. The negative associations of female public drinking , from drunken abuse to illicit sex and petty crime, which can be found in influential source texts like The Dairy of Samuel Pepys, has only been recently explored by scholars. However, virtually no attention has been given to the more respectable and less sensational dimensions of female drinking. By drawing on a range of sources, which includes newspapers, private dairies, ballads, travel journals and public writings to prints, cartoons, woodcuts and drinking songs, I intend to craft a diverse picture of female drinking in the alehouse. My work concludes that while some female costumers matched their contemporary image, as disorderly, immoral and dishonest, many other customers were respectable women who visited an alehouse without jeopardising their good name. Middle-class and elite women might drink in taverns throughout England with their husbands, or in mixed parties. And, at least in London, respectable women might enter an alehouse alone, without meeting disapproval. My work furthermore concludes that many taverns and alehouses provided private as well as public rooms, and these created social spaces for female customers, serving different needs than those met within the main public space.


Crystal Dozier, "Microfossil Advancements to Ancient Fermentation Studies"

Fermented alcoholic beverages have held important ritual and nutritional status within ancient and modern societies around the world. While discussions of the nature and importance of alcohol to archaeological societies has been academically debated since the early 20th century, scientific methods to identify fermentation in the archaeological record has remained elusive. Microfossils such as pollen and starch, however, are proving to be indispensable tools in identifying and reconstructing archaeological foods and beverages. This paper presents several case studies in identifying fermented beverages in archaeological contexts from around the globe. Pollen has been utilized in the identification of wine and mead; while pollen grains are unaffected by fermentation processes, specific beverage-specific genera can and have been identified from archaeological residues. Pollen profiles with a diversity of insect-pollenated plants can also be reliably identified as being residues of honey, a sweetener in many indigenous alcoholic beverages. Starch granules are also useful tools for identifying fermented beverages; starch granules morphologically alter with cooking procedures. Wheat beer and corn beer have been identified from archaeological samples from starch residues; more indigenous beverages have yet to be explored. These case studies highlight the opportunity for microfossil studies to advance our understanding of archaeological fermentation technologies.


Jason Hagler, "Drunken Kings, Bronze Animals, and a Speaker for the Dead: The Role of Alcohol in Ancient Chinese Ritual"

When one looks at ancient Chinese historiographical rhetoric, one is inevitably struck with the pervasive images of alcohol abuse in the justification of the Zhou’s succession of the Shang and the Shang’s of the Xia. For example, the last Kings of the Shang Dynasty are accused of having a wine-lake. But why alcohol? Why is that the locus of disapproval? It may simply be resistance to conspicuous consumption or a teetotalling impulse, but given the central role of alcohol in ancient Chinese ritual, it seems more likely that there is more linked to alcohol in this culture. Alcohol is one of the most common sacrificial items and specialized bronze vessels for serving alcohol have been found, commonly as grave-goods. In addition to that, the role of shamanic practice and entheogen use in ancient Chinese monarchy has long been debated. I propose that in the charge of alcohol abuse, there is a charge of ritual malfeasance, a misuse of sacred substances. In order to evaluate this hypothesis, I will examine the role of alcohol in ancient Chinese ritual. This will rely on the ancient literary corpus as well as on archaeological finds to attempt to uncover just what significance alcohol itself had in Bronze Age Chinese culture by examining which rituals alcohol was offered during, who partook of the alcohol, particularly during rituals such as those for the 尸 (personator of the dead), and what the impact of alcohol in the metaphysical reality is believed to be.


Jason Kennedy, "Alcohol and Labor Mobilization at Ubaid Period Kenan Tepe"

Ceramic use-alteration analysis has shown great utility in identifying patterns of use in ceramic assemblages in both ethnoarchaeological and ancient assemblages. The ceramic use alteration analysis conducted on the Ubaid-related assemblage from site of Kenan Tepe in Diyarbakir Province, southeastern Turkey has revealed evidence for the household production and consumption of alcohol, most likely beer, during the late 5th millennium BCE. In conjunction with the presence of expediently-produced, scraped bowls, I argue that the production of alcohol at Kenan Tepe is related to processes of labor mobilization at the site. Recent scholarship has suggested that expediently-produced, scraped bowls served as ration containers for dependent laborers, while painted Ubaid vessels functioned as prestige items used during competitive feasting events by emergent elites during the Terminal Ubaid (Late Chalcolithic 1, 4400-4200 BCE) period. Based on the analysis of the ceramic use-alteration assemblage at Kenan Tepe, I propose that scraped bowls were used as a means to recruit extra-household labor during times of labor shortage by households of roughly similar social standing through the serving of alcohol. Additionally, the use patterns observed on Ubaid-related painted ceramics suggest that they were used in the daily contexts of food consumption at the site of Kenan Tepe. The patterns of use observed in the Ubaid-related ceramic assemblage have the ability to inform archaeologists of the gestures involved in the daily preparation and consumption of alcohol as well as the social and political relationships formed during its consumption at Kenan Tepe.


Ian Kinman, "Passion Offerings: The Strong Medicine in the Synoptic Cocktails"

In all four Gospels offerings of wine are integrated into the crucifixion narrative, but only in Mark and Matthew do these offerings involve a wine-based cocktail. In Mark, Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh prior to the crucifixion (Mark 15:23), while in Matthew, the pre-crucifixion cocktail changes to wine mixed with gall (Matt 27:34). Most scholarly work on these two passages attempts to harmonize the different wine cocktails in these two synoptic pericopes by prioritizing one account over the other (cf. Raymond Brown), and/or referring to scriptural precedents or (potentially anachronistic) rabbinic traditions. This paper argues, however, that a single Semitic source likely underlies both versions of the story, and that the wine cocktail offered to Jesus prior to his execution on the cross reflects medicinal and pharmacological traditions of the Hellenistic world. These conclusions are reached through a detailed philological study of the relevant Hebrew and Greek vocabulary, as well as a survey of the employment of these cocktails in both ancient Second Temple and Greco-Roman texts.


Tanying Lu, "A General Survey of the Western Zhou’s (1046 - 771 B.C.) Attitude toward the Use of Jiu: What Is Reflected in Literary and Archaeological Sources?"

Given that the character jiu 酒, referring to fermented cereal alcoholic beverage dates back to at least the Neolithic Yangshao culture (ca. 5000- ca. 3000 B.C.), constantly appears in both Western Zhou Coufucian canons as well as in excavated Western Zhou bronze inscriptions, and liquor is constantly mentioned and discussed in the Three Rites that provides templates for ritual conducts, this paper aims at elaborating its spitulated usage in ritual sacrifices and the Western Zhou court’s attitude toward using of it. Mainly based on analyzing the Book of Songs, the Book of Documents, the Three Rites, their repective commentaries, archaeologically excavated vessels and inscriptions, and secondary sources, this paper addresses the characters of Chinese jiu in both ritual and non-ritual contexts: its various types of sources and products, drinking vessels, its stipulated methods and amounts of usage in Western Zhou ritual sacrifices such as employment of personater and resonate with music, and political and social restrictions. In short, through examing, ritual texts actually reveal controversies and anarchronism that cause them being unable to truly reconstruct how jiu was used in early Western Zhou sacrifices. Yet, they still provide a template regarding how rulers and scholars from the mid-Western Zhou onward believed or even expected it had been. Moreover, according to non-ritual texts such as bronze inscriptions, the Book of Songs, and the Book of Documents in particular, while jiu still served as an indispensible element in sacrifices, the Western Zhou rulers generally strictly regulated the use of it mostly because they feared of losing the kingdom through excessive drinking that harmed personal morality, the purported key criterion for attaining and maintaining Heaven’s Mandate.


Elsa Perruchini, Claudia Glatz, and Jaime Toney, "Investigating Ancient Drinking Practices Through Organic Residue Analysis of Second Millennium BC Ceramic Vessels from the Upper Diyala Region, Iraq"

This paper presents the preliminary results of organic residue analysis carried out on ceramic vessels from the site of Khani Masi in the Upper Diyala region of Iraqi Kurdistan. From textual sources we know that this strategic highland-lowland borderland found itself in the midst of three competing imperial powers during the later second millennium BC: Kassite Babylonia, the Middle Assyria polity and Elam. Archaeologically, however, little is known about local cultural traditions and socio-political organisation. In 2014, geophysical prospections and test excavations at Khani Masi by the Sirwan Regional Project (directed by Dr. C. Glatz, University of Glasgow & Prof. J. Casana, Dartmouth College) revealed an extensive monumental complex, whose destruction was radiocarbon dated after the late 13th century BC. Large scale excavations in Fall 2016 led to the discovery of a significant numbers of drinking vessels, such as the iconic ‘Kassite’ goblet. Traditionally treated as a material trait of Kassite imperialism, we know very little about its function(s) and socio-cultural significance. The aim of this project is to shed light on the contents of these vessels in concert with textual and iconography sources and, in doing so, begin to build an understanding of the role of food and drink in the negotiation of local social and cultural identities in this region at a time of heighted external imperial interest. We here present a new field-based sampling strategy and the first results of organic residue analysis which indicate that beer represented an important component of ritual practice at Khani Masi.


Lucas Proctor and Alexia Smith, "Archaeobotanical Evidence for Wine Production/Storage from a Small Iron Age Domestic Structure at Gund-i Topzawa, Iraqi Kurdistan"

This paper explores the archaeobotanical evidence for possible wine production/consumption activities at Gund-i Topzawa, a small Early Iron Age domestic structure in the Sidekan highlands excavated as part of the Rowanduz Archaeological Program. Archaeobotanical data are routinely used to examine the production and processing activities related to agricultural subsistence practices. However, such datasets are much less frequently used to investigate the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages, owing largely to difficulties in distinguishing between alcohol-related activities and other plant uses in primarily seed-based plant assemblages. At Gund-i Topzawa, 41 flotation samples containing carbonized plant remains were during excavations in 2014. The samples, preserved through the catastrophic burning of the site in antiquity, have yielded numerous remains of Vitis vinifera (grape) in addition to numerous other economic and wild plant taxa. These grape specimens, including seeds, pedicels, skins, and whole fruits, were found in association with large pithoi and potentially represent the residues of wine production and storage activities. However, the remains may also represent the storage of fresh grapes or dried raisins within the structure at the time of its destruction. In order to further examine the origins of these specimens and test the hypothesis that they indeed represent wine residues, morphological and quantitative analysis of the various grape remains were undertaken using high-power optical microscopy and SEM imaging. Other lines of evidence, including experimental data, ethnographic studies, and textual accounts are then considered in order to place these remains within the context of Iron Age grape and wine production.


Aikaterini Psimogiannou, "Drinking, Feasting, and Social Transformation in the beginning of the Bronze Age in the Greek Mainland (ca. end of 4th mil. BCE)"

The later Neolithic and Copper Age in Europe (5th-4th mil. BCE) witnessed the appearance of distinct sets of drinking vessels, many of which gave their name to prehistoric cultures in the region. A similar situation was attested in the 3d mil. BCE Aegean (Early Bronze Age II) when the first ranked societies emerged. The role of feasting and drinking practices in their political economy has been put forward, based on pottery material (depas, sauceboat, etc.) and the use of specific spaces, where such activities were conducted. However, we still lack an understanding of how these hierarchical societies were created in the first place. Previous research overemphasized either great narratives of change or narrow site-pottery chronologies. This preliminary study reexamines the issue of culture change in the 3d mil. BCE Aegean, based on a regional, anthropologically-induced synthesis of archaeological evidence from the Greek Mainland (e.g. Proskynas, Mitrou, Eutresis, Tsoungiza). It is suggested that, from the end of the Neolithic onwards, a new ethos of consumption was created, pointing to an increasing visibility of the individual. The appearance of pouring (jug, ladle) and individualized drinking vessels (one-handled cup, saucer) before the Early Bronze Age II indicate the use of alcoholic beverages during ceremonial gatherings. Drinking, feasting, and their symbolic connotations could have led the way towards the emergence of more exclusionary venues that become institutionalized in the following period. Future analysis might provide significant insights, and incorporate the Greek Mainland into the wider European phenomenon, described as the spread of an “alcohol cult”.


Edoardo Radaelli, "Imports of Oriental Wines to Rome during the Middle Imperial age (2nd–early 3rd Centuries AD). Implications and Reflections about the Consumption of Wine Emerging from the Analysis of Wine Amphorae Discovered in the ‘Terme di Elagabalo’ in Rome."

The recent stratigraphic excavations in the building commonly known as the ‘Terme di Elagabalo’ in Rome (which had been carried out by the ‘Scienze dell’Antichità’ Department of the Sapienza - University of Rome from 2007 to 2013) revealed large quantities of unpublished pottery fragments. The remains of wine amphorae arriving from different origins that had been discovered in the Middle Imperial ceramic assemblages of this site (dating from the 2nd to the early 3rd centuries AD) had been summed with the already published amounts in Rome and this calculation brought to ponder over their presence. The large quantities found in this city, the commonly accepted chronologies, origins, and volumes of the forms identified led to slightly refine the studies about the presence of different wines imported to Rome from many areas of the Eastern Mediterranean during that period. This analysis had also been held in conjunction with another which scrutinised many ancient sources (authors, inscriptions, stamps) mentioning the same origins, in order to identify the quality of the wines contained in these amphorae. Although it is impossible to clearly and surely define their prices or who consumed what, looking at ancient sources and studies, some assumptions and hypotheses can be made about a differentiation of buyers and consumers related to social ranks. This study, in fact, also tried to reconstruct the behaviour of Rome’s inhabitants regarding this alcoholic beverage, its purchase and consumption using theories deriving from social sciences and sociology that could be applied to Roman times.


Travis Rupp, "What was in Nestor’s Cup? Brewing Beer in the Bronze Age Aegean"

Considering ancient perspectives on alcohol, the concept of beer production in the Greco-Roman world is seemingly absurd. Though beer as a dietary staple and social lubricant is well documented in Near Eastern, Egyptian, and Indo-European cultures, a comprehensive vocabulary for this beverage is absent in Greek and Latin sources. This paper will discuss the hidden anomaly of brewing and beer production in the Bronze Age. The use of wild barley, einkorn wheat, emmer wheat, and other cereals is documented by a multitude of sources and excavation reports, but were they cultivated for food, beverage, or both? Beginning with excavations at Akrotiri (Marinatos, 1968-1974), this presentation will prove that what he unearthed was not “imperfectly ground flour” but the byproduct of brewing. Considering archaeobotanical evidence at Pylos (Papathanasiou, 2015), I will also demonstrate how beer was a part of commercial and daily activities in Mycenaean citadels. Examining Homeric passages (Il. 11.624-641, Od. 10.234-317), I will provide more insight into the Greek κυκέων, which has been investigated forensically and archaeochemically without definitive conclusions (McGovern, 2009; Tzedakis and Martlew, 2008). Ultimately, this study will demonstrate the importance of beer production in a culture presumably dominated by the grape, and it will conclude that the perception of Greece as purely a wine-based culture is unwarranted. Via this compiled evidence, I will explain how Avery Brewing Company successfully reproduced this Bronze Age beer and replicated the ancient brewing process.


Fabian Toro, "Insights and Limitations of Experimental Archaeology to Understanding Alcohol Production in the Ancient World"

Experimental methods can help produce significant insights into the processes required for the production of alcohol, complementing the archaeological evidence. Nevertheless, in order to incorporate these insights into an accurate and thorough interpretation of alcohol production in the ancient world, it is extremely important to evaluate the limitations of these methods. Articles such as Justin Jenkin’s “Drinking Beer in a Blissful Mood” are extremely helpful in identifying operational chains for various types of fermented beverages. However, this approach, while certainly insightful, should be complemented by experimental data that carefully evaluates the variables, and conclusions as they pertain to the archaeological argument. This article will present three different case studies of experimental approaches, and will highlight the benefits and shortcomings of each method. Alcohol production is a variable process that relies on numerous parameters. Technologies employed, availability of resources, scale of production, environmental conditions and individual palates are all elements of the process that vary depending on geographical location as well as time. These parameters must be considered to produce an effective conclusion. Despite the limitations, experimental endeavors can reveal nuances about the operational chain, physical effort required, potential variations in the process and organizational logistics. Furthermore, waste products can provide comparative material for archaeobotanical and residue analyses. In conclusion the nature of the research question will dictate how these variables are manipulated corresponding to archaeological evidence.


Martin Uildriks, "Wine for the People: the Democratization of Ancient Egyptian Wine"

The production and consumption of Ancient Egyptian wine is usually viewed through the lens of elites: wall paintings, textual sources, and a limited archaeological repertoire from elite contexts are usually taken to suggest that wine production and consumption, since the late Predynastic period, remained an elite enterprise throughout the Pharaonic kingdoms. However, if we zoom in on a specific stage of the production process a different image seems to emerge. This paper draws from the earlier mentioned sources and a number of ethnographic parallels to outline an evolution of the Ancient Egyptian wine press to suggest that pressing grapes did not necessarily have to be an activity controlled by elites. In fact, not much is known of those who pressed the grapes, and whether they operated in systems of free labor or indentured servitude; if labor was voluntary, the access to wine seems unlikely to have been restricted to elites; if grapes were pressed in servitude, ethnographic examples open up the possibility that wine could have found its way to the mouths of Ancient Egyptian commoners, making alcohol one of few ways we can actually study them. In conclusion, this paper will argue three main points. First, drawing from historical data, I will argue that wine production and consumption contributed significantly to Ancient Egyptian geopolitical developments. Secondly, if wine production was under state control at all, it dwindled in the course of history, and finally, through these developments also became available to commoners, in the New Kingdom if not before.