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5,000-year-old Chinese beer recipe discovered

Archaeologists in China have uncovered what appears to be apparatus and ingredients for beer that date back 5,000 years – the first ever found in the country.

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An illustration from the report showing some of the pottery fragments found and examined from the site

A team from Stanford University working on pottery vessels from the ‘Mijiaya’ site in Shaanxi province has said it has found evidence of barley-based beer production dating from around 3400 to 2900 BC.

The vessels, in various forms which suggests they had different uses in the production of the beer, date to a Neolithic period of Chinese history and a culture known as ‘Yangshao’, which existed in the area around the Yellow River in the modern provinces of Shaanxi, Henan and Shanxi.

The discovery is the first known evidence of beer production in China and is also the earliest-known evidence of barley use, which also means the crop appeared in the area 1,000 years earlier than previous estimates had placed it.

The author of the new research, Jiajing Wang, said that while there is evidence of alcoholic beverages being made in China from rice from close to 9,000 years ago, “to our knowledge this is the first direct evidence of in situ beer making in China.”

Interestingly, the researchers think that barley was initially used for brewing rather than food and that beer had therefore played an important part in the development of ancient Chinese society.

The report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science stated: “The production and consumption of Yangshao beer may have contributed to the emergence of hierarchical societies in the Central Plain, the region known as ‘the cradle of Chinese civilisation’.”

Examination of residue in the vessels showed that barley, broomcorn millet, lily, yam, snake gourd root and other ingredients were all used in this early beer production.

The Yangshao culture is so old that it predates other, better-known yet also ancient Chinese cultures such as the Shang, Zhou and Han dynasties.

It was already a good 2,000-3,000 years old when the first emperor of unified China, Qin Shi Huang, came to prominence in second century BC.

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