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Robert J

Ancient empire built on beer

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Ancient empire built on beer

By ANNE MCILROY

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Globe and Mail

Women had more status in Incan and pre-Incan society than they have been given credit for, archeologists say, and not because they were soldiers or political leaders. They brewed the beer.

This is one of several findings in an intriguing new research paper about the mysterious last days of the Wari, who lived in the central Andes from 600 to 1000 AD, and predated the Inca. They built an elaborate city on a remote summit in southern Peru that included an industrial-sized brewery, a palace and a temple.

The Wari made and drank copious amounts of a beer-like drink called chicha, which was concocted by fermenting corn and Peruvian pepper-tree berries in ceramic vessels.

Back then, beer was as important to the Wari as it is to Homer Simpson -- but for different reasons.

"There was much more to it than drinking and getting drunk," said University of Florida anthropologist Susan deFrance, part of the team that has spent more than a decade excavating the site.

Beer was an economic tool and the Wari would have used it to keep workers who built the mountaintop city happy, she said. "Kind of like the weekend party for people who help you move or paint your house."

Evidence suggests beer was also used to get upper-class men to commit their workers to communal jobs, like building canals or temples. It would have been an honour to be invited up the hill for a drink of high-class beer out of ceremonial ceramic vessels, Dr. deFrance said.

Making the beer was so important to the Wari that researchers aren't sure the ancient empire could have functioned without it. When they built their summit city, the Wari erected a sophisticated brewery that could make 1,800 litres of beer at a time. It had separate compartments for milling, boiling and fermentation.

The researchers found at least 10 elegant shawl pins on the floor of the brewery, brooches used to keep warm wraps around the shoulders. The metal pins, which were worn by noble women as a sign of status, were not found in other areas of the ruins.

"The brewers were not only women, but elite women," said Donna Nash, an anthropologist with the Field Museum in Chicago who was part of the team working on the Wari site.

The discovery of the shawl pins adds to a growing body of evidence that suggests women in Incan and pre-Incan Andean societies had more authority than has previously been acknowledged, the researchers say.

Beer also played an important role in the final days of the outpost, which was the most southern of several Wari settlements. The flat-topped hill, or mesa, wasn't a practical place to live. Food, water and construction materials had to be lugged up 2,400 metres, a climb that takes a good hour today. Researchers believe they built it to impress their neighbours, the Tiwanaku, who reigned to the south in what is now Bolivia. It was first settled around 600 AD, and then abruptly abandoned around 400 years later. No one is sure why.

Today, it is still a sacred site for the local indigenous people, and is known to researchers as the ancient imperial colony at Cerro Baul.

Remnants found at the site indicate that before the Wari left town, they held a farewell ceremony that began with the brewing of a final batch of chicha. A week later, they drank it, and then as a sacrifice to the gods, torched the brewery and smashed ceramic drinking vessels.

They also burned the palace, after a banquet of deer, llama and seven types of ocean fish. It also appears they sacrificed a condor and a pygmy owl before moving out.

The Wari seemed to disappear after they left their mountain city. Their society fragmented, and eventually the Inca colonized the area. Research suggests beer was also important to the Incan culture and economy, and the upper-class Incan women were the brew masters.

Today, in the Andes, men and women drink chicha and other alcoholic drinks together, Dr. deFrance said.

"There's a lot of equality in terms of how men and women drink in the highlands of the Andes," said the anthropologist, a co-author of a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "Women will get as rip-roaring drunk, if not more so, than the men, and it is not frowned upon."

It was probably the same when the Wari ruled that part of the world, Dr. deFrance said. Not only did women make the beer, they probably got as stinking drunk as the men.

Wari's best brew

It is probably a good thing that the Wari drank their chicha, or beer, in pottery vessels because the cloudy brew probably wasn't that appealing to look at, Dr. Susan deFrance says. The Wari had several social classes, and each made its own beer. The top-of-the-line brew was made in the city built on the mountain in southern Peru. Sprouted corn kernels were ground up, and then boiled over fire pits. The women chewed some of the corn, and spit it into the pots to get some microbes into the mix. Spicy pepper tree berries were boil or soaked, then their pits were discarded to leave a syrupy mash. It is not clear whether the corn and berries were combined, or kept separate as distinct kinds of drinks. But the liquid was transported to the fermentation area, placed in 12 vats and aged three to five days. Then it was ready to quaff.

Edited by Robert J

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The Wari made and drank copious amounts of a beer-like drink called chicha, which was concocted by fermenting corn and Peruvian pepper-tree berries in ceramic vessels.

I wonder what that tasted like.

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The Wari made and drank copious amounts of a beer-like drink called chicha, which was concocted by fermenting corn and Peruvian pepper-tree berries in ceramic vessels.

I wonder what that tasted like.

Go sample the transmission fluid in your car.

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"Women will get as rip-roaring drunk, if not more so, than the men, and it is not frowned upon."

It was probably the same when the Wari ruled that part of the world, Dr. deFrance said. Not only did women make the beer, they probably got as stinking drunk as the men.

See what happens when women fail to play the 'anchor' and start acting like us? Society goes right over the cliff.

...but who cares...gimme a grass skirt and get me to Ye Olde Time Tunnel ASAP! :excited:

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The Wari made and drank copious amounts of a beer-like drink called chicha, which was concocted by fermenting corn and Peruvian pepper-tree berries in ceramic vessels.

I wonder what that tasted like.

Peruvian pepper tree, sterile (Sch. molle)

Plant family

Anacardiaceae (cashew family)

Sensory quality

Sweet and aromatic, similar to juniper (which makes a good substitute, though it is far more intensive).

Main constituents

Mostly monoterpene hydrocarbons (together about 10% of the mass of the dried berries): 21% ?3-carene, 20% a-pinene, 13% a-phellandrene, 9% limonene, 8% p-cymene and 6% ß-phellandrene. Furthermore, monoterpene, sequiterpene and triterpene derivatives were reported: cis-sabinole, carvotanacetone, ß-caryophyllene, a- and ß-cubebane, a-amyrin, a-amyrenone, masticadienoic acid and hydroxymasticadienoic acid. The sweet taste (cf. licorice) of the dried berries is due to considerable amounts of sugar. (Phytochemistry, 16, 1301, 1977)

The berries are sometimes accused of causing respiratory ailment or irritation of mucous membranes, especially in Florida, where the species has proved quite invasive. This may be due to urushiol-type allergens (see sumac), but the spice grown in Réunion appears to be free of urushiols, and the less effective cardanoles (3-alkylphenoles) were found in lower concentration than Florida-grown pink pepper.

Origin

Brazil (Schinus terebinthifolius) and Perú (Schinus molle L.). The former was introduced to Florida and today grows there wild; some sources claim that S. molle is commonly planted as an ornamental in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea.

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Juniper? That's not beer, that's GIN!

And what's up w/all the old-timers talking about gin putting lead in your pencil? Never worked that way for me.

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It is probably a good thing that the Wari drank their chicha, or beer, in pottery vessels because the cloudy brew probably wasn't that appealing to look at... The women chewed some of the corn, and spit it into the pots to get some microbes into the mix.

This was the "take-home point" emphasized by my botany professor back in college -- a guy who explored the world for indigenous uses of plants and was famous for investigating the development of corn in Mexico -- he told this cautionary tale over and over again, to illustrate what a gracious guest might be required to imbibe in the field!

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Beer kept Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations rolling along as well. . . was a large part of the food source.

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