Prehistoric Silk Road

ANCIENT FERMENTED BEVERAGES: EAST AND WEST ALONG THE SILK ROAD

The speaker will illustrate the Biomolecular Archaeology approach by drawing on his research on ancient barley beer and grape wine in the Near East–on one end of the Silk Road–over the past two decades, including the earliest chemically identified and published examples of these beverages from Iran ( ca. 5500 B.C.).  In China–at the other end of the Silk Road–recently published evidence indicates that beverage-making using rice, fruit (grape and/or hawthorn fruit), and honey was used to make a mixed fermented beverage as early as 7000 B.C.  Beyond the considerable social, religious and medical significance of this discovery, it highlights once again human innovation in using local resources to make an alcoholic drink.  What is equally curious is the timing of the emergence of this beverage in China about the same time that similar beverages were being concocted in the Near East.  Could it be that ideas associated with plant domestication and fermented beverage production were being transferred–however fragmentary the process and at short distances over and over again–across the expanse of Central Asia via a forerunner of the Silk Road?