A lot of research on alcohol is out there, highlighting either the health risks, and in fewer instances, the benefits that may come with it.
You are probably aware that heavy drinking may damage your liver, and you may have also heard that a moderate consumption of wine, one glass a day, might even be good for your heart.
Less highlighted is the role of alcohol throughout history and even prehistory.
Various researchers and archeologists have studied abundant evidence from archeological sites worldwide which attest to the fact that alcohol was used as a ‘social lubricant’ which predates inventions such as writing and even pottery.
Written language did not appear until roughly 3500 B.C. in the Middle East, but traces of brewing in the region go back as early as 10,000 years ago.
So how has alcohol helped our species? Did alcohol enable human culture and civilization to evolve and prosper? According to some scientists, our dedication to booze is timeless and the links we have with it are unbreakable.
Oxford University’s evolutionary biologist Robin Dunbar brings the talk back to 400,000 years ago, when our distant relatives, hunter-gatherers, invented the campfire and started having feasts around it.
Having a meal around the fireplace helped people communicate with each other, exchange new food, and forge new relations. While alcohol wasn’t there in the beginning, over time, as it became available, it could have presented itself as a major reason to have more feasts by the campfire.
And if that was what stimulated hormones of happiness and aided new joyous memories, our ancient relatives may have been more than eager to crack all the hidden secrets of grains and fruits.
“Archaic humans may have been very familiar with naturally fermented fruits and may well have consumed them avidly — much as chimpanzees and elephants do in Africa,” says Dunbar, according to the Guardian.
Dartmouth College’s biological anthropologist, Nathaniel Dominy further says that “we’re pre-adapted for consuming alcohol,” as shared by the National Geographic.
Living on the trees, our primate ancestors consumed different fruits, but the ethanol smell coming from the rotten fallen pieces may have had an enchanting effect.
The distinctive smell would have made the treat easy to find it. This food was also nutritious and packed with some antibacterial properties. Looking back millions of years in time, it is easy to imagine primates, climbing down from a tree to feast with what was left on the ground.
Fast forward millions of years, there was one other significant societal transformation to go: the birth of agriculture and cultivating grains. Steamy debates have existed among scientists for decades, whether the first grain cultivation was due to beer production or bread making?
Some research suggests that when Stone Age farmers started growing grains 12 millennia back, they were maybe not that interested in nurturing their hungry belly. Cultivating grains was a difficult, time-consuming process, even for our early ancestors who had all the time in the world.
The process entailed not only gathering the small and mostly uneatable bits but also taking care of the waste, then grinding the good crops, and finally working on a final product, which may not have been bread but the joyful liquid that was beer.
Such painstaking processes perhaps required a sort of ‘special’ occasion: a feast where people gathered and new friendships were induced by alcohol. If the mood was good, possibilities of new undertakings for the future could be reviewed.
Our nomadic relatives were perhaps more prone to bonding between each other thanks to booze. Alcohol smoothed the running of these early societies that were still forming. Beer might have been the reward for all those hard-working hoards of people who needed to raise the gigantic slabs of stones and erect ancient sites of worship, temples and wonders alike.
One intriguing piece of evidence comes from Turkey, a site known as Göbekli Tepe, where a study was published in the journal Antiquity in 2012.
Göbekli Tepe is noted for having the remnants of some of the earliest known temples on Earth and also has gigantic concealed stone vessels that were capable of containing up to 40 gallons of liquid, dated to at least 11,000 years ago.
At the bottom of the stone vessels, scientists reportedly traced a chemical known as oxalate, a substance unleashed amid brewing, during grain treatment and fermentation. Göbekli Tepe was likely a place where people came to brew some of the most basic types of beer, have a feast, and eventually indulge in certain kinds of religious ritual.
Such knowledge even challenges our firmly established thoughts on how religion emerged in our societies. It is largely assumed that religion took advantage of already established human settlements in order to exist.
But what if our hunter-gatherer ancestors who assembled at Göbekli Tepe for rituals, eventually decided to anchor themselves there in order to have the rituals more often, and this led to the formation of religion? Archaeologists at the Turkish site rather believe the latter, as National Geographic also writes.
Early traces of alcohol can be found everywhere else around the world. In China, a specific type of wine was yielded out of fruit, rice, and honey as early as 9,000 years ago, according to National Geographic. In Georgia (the country), wine production commenced as early as 8,000 years ago, about the same time the ancient people in Iran domesticated grapes as crops.
And ever since we have been cultivating a love and hate relationship with alcohol. Another example is beer having been brewed in Cyprus some 3,500 years ago at a site called Kissonerga-Scalia, according to Live Science.
In the days of ancient Rome, wine was a sort of medicine. It was required that soldiers drink a dose on a daily basis.
The followers of the Prophet Muhammad were required to abstain from any intake of alcohol, but that came coupled with a promise that there will be plenty of rewards in heaven.
Different prohibitions came and went, such as in England in 1316 when, due to a scarcity of wheat, brewing was temporarily forbidden. A more recent one, in the U.S., lasted merely 13 years, between 1920 and 1933.
Humans love alcohol so much that we have taken some wine also in space. Kudos to Buzz Aldrin who was carrying a flask on that Apollo mission in 1969.