Uncorking the Past

Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages

PATRICK E. McGOVERN
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 348
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt7zw1wq
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  • Book Info
    Uncorking the Past
    Book Description:

    In a lively tour around the world and through the millennia,Uncorking the Pasttells the compelling story of humanity's ingenious, intoxicating quest for the perfect drink. Following a tantalizing trail of archaeological, chemical, artistic, and textual clues, Patrick E. McGovern, the leading authority on ancient alcoholic beverages, brings us up to date on what we now know about how humans created and enjoyed fermented beverages across cultures. Along the way, he explores a provocative hypothesis about the integral role such libations have played in human evolution. We discover, for example, that the cereal staples of the modern world were probably domesticated for their potential in making quantities of alcoholic beverages. These include the delectable rice wines of China and Japan, the corn beers of the Americas, and the millet and sorghum drinks of Africa. Humans also learned how to make mead from honey and wine from exotic fruits of all kinds-even from the sweet pulp of the cacao (chocolate) fruit in the New World. The perfect drink, it turns out-whether it be mind-altering, medicinal, a religious symbol, a social lubricant, or artistic inspiration-has not only been a profound force in history, but may be fundamental to the human condition itself.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94468-8
    Subjects: Environmental Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
    (pp. IX-X)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. XI-XVI)
  5. ONE HOMO IMBIBENS: I Drink, Therefore I Am
    (pp. 1-27)

    Astronomers probing our galaxy with powerful radio waves have discovered that alcohol does not exist only on the Earth. Massive clouds of methanol, ethanol, and vinyl ethanol—measuring billions of kilometers across—have been located in interstellar space and surrounding new star systems. One cloud, denoted Sagittarius B2N, is located near the center of the Milky Way, some 26,000 light-years or 150 quadrillion miles away from the Earth. While the distant location ensures that humans will not be exploiting extraterrestrial ethanol any time soon, the magnitude of this phenomenon has excited speculation about how the complex carbon molecules of life...

  6. TWO ALONG THE BANKS OF THE YELLOW RIVER
    (pp. 28-59)

    I never expected that my search for the origins of fermented alcoholic beverages would take me to China. After all, I had spent more than twenty years directing an excavation in Jordan and working throughout the Middle East. I took the first step on my journey to China when, serendipitously, I attended a session on ancient pottery at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association in 1995. There I met Anne Underhill, an archaeologist at the Field Museum in Chicago, who had recently started one of the first American expeditions on the Chinese mainland, after the dry spell of...

  7. THREE THE NEAR EASTERN CHALLENGE
    (pp. 60-104)

    A neolithic grog from china, dating back to 7000 b.c., challenges the conventional notion that civilization began in the Near East. I had gone to China in 1999 with the same preconception, all the more ingrained because I studied Near Eastern archaeology and history at the University of Pennsylvania and until then had spent most of my career excavating in the Middle East. China is notably absent from all Near Eastern writings until the Roman period. Even the Bible, which purports to give a general perspective of human history and our place in the universe, omits China. The Gospel of...

  8. FOUR FOLLOWING THE SILK ROAD
    (pp. 105-128)

    The silk road conjures up romantic images of the past. Two grains of opium compelled Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1797 to write the inspired poem that begins: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree.” Xanadu, or Shangdu, was the summer palace of the Mongol empire in the thirteenth century a.d. It lay east of the forbidding Gobi Desert, on the high grasslands of the Mongolian plateau. When the Mongol hordes swept into China from the north under Genghis Khan, they took control of northern China and the famed Silk Road. Its eastern terminus was Xi’an, home to...

  9. COLOR PLATES
    (pp. None)
  10. FIVE EUROPEAN BOGS, GROGS, BURIALS, AND BINGES
    (pp. 129-158)

    The wordeuropefor me conjures up a host of fermented beverages: ruby-red clarets, luscious Champagnes, and heavenly Burgundy from France; Riesling and Nebbiolo wines from Germany and Italy; and the wonderful lambic beers, Abbey tripels, and red ales of Belgium. These drinks and many others trace their origins to medieval times.

    We owe a debt to the monastic communities of the Middle Ages for most of the European beverages we enjoy today. As well as patiently dedicating themselves to a spiritual life and preparation for the next world, the monks explored, selected, and nurtured the plant life of this...

  11. SIX SAILING THE WINE-DARK MEDITERRANEAN
    (pp. 159-197)

    My wife and i caught our first glimpse of the azure Mediterranean in 1971, when we traveled south from Germany to Italy, on our way to a kibbutz in Israel and my first archaeological adventures in the Middle East. We had been picking grapes on the Mosel River, and when temperatures dropped in early October, we needed to move to warmer climes. A chill ran up my spine, not from cold but excitement, when we espied the Mediterranean from the high bluff overlooking Monaco. We felt blessed, just as the vineyards of the Mosel were that summer, and we looked...

  12. SEVEN THE SWEET, THE BITTER, AND THE AROMATIC IN THE NEW WORLD
    (pp. 198-230)

    When the archaeologist thomas dillehay of Vanderbilt University began excavating in 1977 at the small prehistoric settlement of Monte Verde in Chile, he could hardly have imagined the scholarly furor he would arouse. He and his colleagues discovered that the site, located fifty-five kilometers inland from the Pacific Ocean and once home to about thirty people, was one of the earliest human settlements in the Americas, dated to around 13,000 b.p. If humans had crossed from Siberia to Alaska on a land bridge (Beringia) created at the end of the Ice Age, as available genetic evidence suggested, how had they...

  13. EIGHT AFRICA SERVES UP ITS MEADS, WINES, AND BEERS
    (pp. 231-265)

    Our exploration of fermented beverages on planet Earth brings us full circle back to Africa. This is where our forebears of one hundred thousand years ago first spread out from the Great Rift Valley to other parts of the continent and then across the Sinai land bridge or the Bab el-Mandeb to Asia, eventually opening themselves up to the whole world.

    Many Westerners imagine Africa as a continent of impenetrable jungles, lush grasslands, rolling sand dunes, and the occasional snow-capped mountain like Kilimanjaro. Its peoples present a bewildering picture of diverse cultures and languages. My initial impression of Africa was...

  14. NINE ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES: Whence and Whither?
    (pp. 266-282)

    To understand the modern fascination with alcoholic beverages of all kinds, as well as the reasons why they are also targets of condemnation, we need to step back and take a longer view. Alcohol occurs in nature, from the depths of space to the primordial “soup” that may have generated the first life on Earth. Of all known naturally addictive substances, only alcohol is consumed by all fruit-eating animals. It forms part of an intricate web of interrelationships between yeasts, plants, and animals as diverse as the fruit fly, elephant, and human, for their mutual benefit and propagation. According to...

  15. SELECT BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 283-296)
  16. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 297-300)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 301-330)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 331-332)