Evidence of Iron Age brew found by roadworks team

Road workers completing a £1.5 billion upgrade in Cambridgeshire have stumbled across what archaeologists believe to be the earliest evidence of beer ever uncovered in Britain, identifying fermented residue dating back to 400BC.

The team with the remains of a wooly mammoth, believed to be 150,000 years old. Credit: Highways England

Archaeologists overseeing the project, which has already unearthed several other historical finds of significance, found “tell-tale signs of the Iron Age brew” during work on improvements to the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon. Highways England said the substance was identified from fragments of charred residue from the beer-making process. It is believed the find could date back as far as 400BC, to the Iron Age.

As reported by the BBC, Dr Steve Sherlock, archaeology lead, said: “It’s a well-known fact that ancient populations used the beer-making process to purify water and create a safe source of hydration, but this is potentially the earliest physical evidence of that process taking place in the UK.”

Archaeobotanist Lara Gonzalez added: “I knew when I looked at these tiny fragments under the microscope that I had something special. The microstructure of these remains had clearly changed through the fermentation process and air bubbles typical of those formed in the boiling and mashing process of brewing.”

She said the fragments were similar to bread, but showed “evidence of fermentation and contains larger pieces of cracked grains and bran, but no fine flour”.

The team have already uncovered the Ice Age remains of a woolly mammoth, which could be at least 150,000 years old, as well as prehistoric henges, Iron Age settlements, Roman kilns, three Anglo-Saxon villages and a medieval hamlet during the road upgrade.

Dr Sherlock added: “The work we are doing on the A14 continues to unearth incredible discoveries that are helping to shape our understanding of how life in Cambridgeshire, and beyond, has developed through history.”

The team is working to create a new bypass to the south of Huntingdon and upgrading 21 miles of road.

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