Central Europe and Neolithic beer (4000 BC)


Grain de blé (Triticum aestivum) après 6 jours de gremination Wheat grain (Triticum aestivum) after 6 days of germination. SE: endosperm; A:aleurone; T:tissue. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0231696.g003


A European team discovered in 2020 a new marker to detect malting in archaeological grain residues. The germination of cereal grains leaves intact the thin aleurone cell layer that surrounds the albumen and separates it from the germ, while thinning the cell wall. This thinning can be measured. This microstructure after germination is so characteristic of Gramineae (intact but thinned cell walls) that examination under an electron microscope can determine whether or not the grains have undergone a controlled germination, i.e. malting. Malting is one of the methods for brewing beer. This new marker only addresses traces of beer that has been brewed using the malting method. The other methods (fungal hydrolysis, acid hydrolysis, unsalivation) do not induce the same histological changes in the seeds[1].


This new marker will pave the way for new analyses to look for the presence of archaic beers on archaeological sites that contain amorphous residues of crushed grains that have been degraded by cooking or fermentation. Applicable to all grasses, this test covers a large part of the starch sources used to brew beer since the Neolithic period. Only the tubers, roots, starchy pith of certain trees, and starchy nuts escape this detection.

HEISS 2020 - Charred emmer wheat (Triticum-dicoccum) from Tell el-Farkha Emmer wheat from Tell el-Farkha. A: 3 packs of aleurone cells. SE: starch endosperm. N: nucellus ? https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0231696.g009


In order to confirm the validity of this marker, starch residues dated from predynastic Egypt (4th millennium) from Hierakonpolis and Tell-el-Farkha were tested. These two archaeological sites have brewing facilities respectively identified and described since the 1990s (Geller J. 1992) and 2005 (Kubiak-Martens, Langer 2005). The samples tested in Hierakonpolis date from 3764-3537 BC, in Tell-el-Farka from 3600-3500 BC. Each test confirmed the presence of fragments of thin-walled aleurone cells and, at the same time, proved that malting was one of the preferred brewing methods of the ancient Egyptians in pre-dynastic times[2].


This marker was then searched for and isolated in carbonized residues discovered at 3 Neolithic sites of the 4th millennium in Central Europe: Sipplingen-Osthafen and Hornstaad-Hörnle on Lake Constance (Southwestern Germany) and Parkhaus-Opera on Lake Zürich (Switzerland). The conclusion is obvious. These three sites reveal the existence of beer produced by malting cultivated barley. The samples are dated 3910 BCE (Hornstaad), 3600 BCE (Sipplingen), 3160 BCE (Parkhaus).



This tremendous discovery confirms that the brewing of beer closely followed the beginnings of agriculture in Central Europe. With the reservation of further discoveries, beer undoubtedly became the preferred fermented drink of the human groups populating the heart of Europe, of its first farmers. In Central Europe, the first evidences of Neolithic culture are contemporary to the 3 sites tested, 5000-4000 BCE. We must remain cautious and not conclude that an "invention" of beer in Europe is synchronous everywhere with the earliest beginnings of agriculture on this continent.

Chronology of arrival times of the Neolithic transition in Europe Timeline of Neolithic cultures in Europe.


This new marker provides archaeologists with a new tool for analysing grain residues that are thousands of years old. More importantly, it can be used to analyze residues that have undergone milling and cooking that destroy grain morphology and even starch granules, except for fragments of aleurone cells. It supplements a panoply of tools for tracing the protohistory of beer, its various compositions and brewing methods. It may prove to be essential for understanding how and when brewing was born in the European territories, starting from the shores of the Black Sea and Greece to reach the far north of Europe in a few millennia, a slow but unstoppable progression. The first of these runs along the Mediterranean shores with the Cardial ware culture, the second goes up the Danube with the Linear Pottery culture.




[1] Heiss AG, Azorin MB, Antolin F, Kubiak-Martens L, Marinova E, Arendt EK, & al. Mashes to Mashes, Crust to Crust. Presenting a novel microstructural marker for malting in the archaeological record. PLOS One 2020. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0231696

[2] Cialowicz Krzysztof. New Discoveries at Tell el-Farkha and the Beginnings of the Egyptian State, Etudes et Travaux XXX (2017), p. 231–250. https://doi.org/10.12775/EtudTrav.30.011
Kubiak-Martens L., Langer JJ. Predynastic brewing based on botanical and physicochemical evidence from Tell el-Farkha, Eastern Delta. In: Midant-Reynes B, Tristant Y, Rowland J, Hendrickx S, editors. Egypt at its origins 2: Proceedings of the international conference "Origin of the State, Predynastic and Early Dynastic Egypt," Toulouse (France), 5th–8th September 2005. Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta. Leuven: Peeters; 2008. p. 425–39.

06/06/2020  Christian Berger