Friday Night Cocktails: What Dr Bronowski got wrong about the Neolithic

Recently we had occasion to revisit The Ascent of Man, Dr Jacob Bronowski’s hit 1973 series about human progress. Opinion has always been divided on this show as it is on so many cult classics. To some, it was always “windy b*ll*cks”. To others, an earnest and erudite attempt to educate a broader public and draw them into the delights of science and technology.

For us, the series peaked early in episode 2, which dealt with the Neolithic Revolution, when people learned at last to domesticate animals and plants, settle down and leave behind the life of smelly old ape-men. In it, the Good Doctor waxes with lyrical enthusiasm about early forms of wheat, and how that led to bread and cities and so on. All very worthy-but wasn’t an even more important discovery left out entirely? Like, a drop of booze, to comfort you after a long day building all those temples and shearing all those sheep? Who discovered wine? Who cracked open the first beer? Where?

Almost fifty years on, we can at last start to answer those questions, with the help of Wikipedia [1] and some other links we have for you. According to them, the honour goes to some unknown geniuses in what is now Israel, as long ago as 11 000 BCE. Read this extract:

The oldest verifiable brewery has been found in a prehistoric burial site in a cave near Haifa in modern-day Israel. Researchers have found residue of 13,000-year-old beer that they think might have been used for ritual feasts to honor the dead. The traces of a wheat-and-barley-based alcohol were found in stone mortars carved into the cave floor.[4] Some have proposed that alcoholic drinks predated agriculture and it was the desire for alcoholic drinks that lead to agriculture and civilization

Almost before goats, wheat and pottery, then. That’s pioneering. That’s progress. At least according to the way we look at the world on a Friday night. Just for balance, we have included a second link to Thought.Co and another superb website

And so to our conclusion. Were the BBC to come marching round here and ask us to do a re-make, what would we call it? The Delayed Ascent of Man after a Heavy Night? The Ascent of Man, followed by a Drunken Fall? One thing is sure: it won’t be the features section of Fox News who contact us. They’ll concentrate on the Ape Men.




#alcohol #beer #wine #wheat #barley #neolithic

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