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Monday, March 25, 2013

Homer Simpson Was Right

Archeologists at Simon Fraser University up north have come to a tentative conclusion (which I've bolded for your benefit below:
It has long been speculated that increasing demands for cereals for the purposes of brewing beer led to domestication in the Near Eastern Natufian cultures. While the question of whether cereals were being used in beer production is an important issue, it has remained a difficult proposition to test. We present some new perspectives on traditional brewing techniques relevant to this issue, on archaeological remains, and on the paleoecology of the Near East. Taken together, these observations provide more compelling circumstantial evidence that makes it increasingly likely that brewing of beer was an important aspect of feasting and society in the Late Epipaleolithic.
Well, no duh.   Archeologists have long been building that case.  As Alan notes, the press has been on this like brettanomyces on lambic, inevitably implying that beer created civilization.  I can't read the paper, but based on the abstract, I'd say they were a heap more circumspect.  "An important aspect" is not "caused."

But I'd like to associate myself with Alan, who points out that "civilization" wasn't so hot for the 99%.  He highlights the lovely slavery aspect, but that is by no means all.  With "civilization" came many great changes.  People's diets went from being rich and varied to being monotonous and boring--and probably sickening, too.  To embrace domestic farming, people had to give up all that leisure time they had after they had hunted and gathered.  Before farming, these savages had relatively flat social structures and were far less prone to oppressive patriarchy.  There were no overlords and underlings, no kings and vassals.  It is true that they lacked a steady supply of beer, but that supply was critical after they settled down, for life had become such a hellscape for so many (hauling massive stones to build tombs--fun!) they needed the beer.

It's pretty much exactly the opposite of what this guy says in the New York Times.  (Appropriately, he botched the landing, going with a cliched quote Ben Franklin never said.)  I, however, will stick my landing, for I turn to that great sage of the late 20th century, who actually did say this:


  1. I like to say the solvent in the bond.

  2. "IS the bond"!!!

    [Good Lord. Never quip. Never ever quip.]

  3. I think you are idealizing hunter/gather life. Diets were not necessarily rich and varied, they were what could be found, and sometimes nothing could be found. There was also plenty of tribe on tribe violence. It was not this brotherly-love, leisurely lifestyle you allude to. Furthermore the advances in agrarian society is credit with providing enough leisure time to allow for the development more complex forms of art and science. Both hunter/gather and agrarian societies have their pluses and minuses, clearly history has favored the later.


    Just to illustrate the anthropological arguments over the hunter-gathers. Clearly somewhere in between.