Patrick E. McGovern is the Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, where he is also an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology. In the popular imagination, he is known as the “Indiana Jones of Ancient Ales, Wines, and Extreme Beverages.”
Over the past two decades, he has pioneered the exciting interdisciplinary field of Biomolecular Archaeology which is yielding whole new chapters concerning our human ancestry, medical practice, and of course what our ancient ancestors were eating and drinking. His laboratory discovered the earliest chemically attested alcoholic beverage in the world (ca. 7000 B.C. from China), the earliest grape wine (ca. 5400 B.C.) and barley beer (ca. 3500 B.C.) from the Middle East, and some of the earliest chocolate from the Americas (ca. 1400 B.C.). These findings and others have resulted in 15 international stories, and widespread public and scholarly exposure and acclaim.
He is well known for his book on Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture (Princeton University, 2003/2006), and most recently, Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages (Berkeley: University of California, 2009).
Biomolecular Archaeology is the “wave of the future” in discovering the past. This supremely interdisciplinary field promises to bridge the gap between the “Two Cultures” of the humanities and the natural sciences.
Have you ever wondered what an ancient wine tasted like, or how well it paired with ancient caviar? Phrased more academically, what are the environmental and genetic factors that have shaped our species and cultures? Or what foods and beverages have contributed to our bio-cultural transformation over the past three million years?
Until recently, archaeology was limited to the inorganic remains of the past, such as pottery vessels and stone architecture. Yet human beings are mainly organic–our cuisine, our clothes, our brains, and the biosphere that we inhabit.
Revolutionary advances in chemical instrumentation over the past forty years now make it possible to answer questions about what it is to be human. We are at the beginning of a process that promises to transform our understanding of our species and yield spectacular discoveries in the 21st century.