4,000 years ago, Chinese advances were fueled by the massive production of beer!

What were the significant forces and factors that led to notable evolutionary leaps in Chinese culture over 4,000 years ago? New research identifies a major cultural development that helped initiate high-level civilizational change, and it’s a revelation. These researchers claim that a significant innovation in brewing technology, which created the possibility of mass production of beer, had a profound impact on the ancient Chinese people, who truly appreciated the opportunity to consume this fermented drink. at large-scale public events.

Red rice beer was said to be considered desirable for its flavor, mind-altering effects, and “sacred” red hue. A team of scientists from China and the United States published their study in the journal Archaeological and anthropological sciences and it revealed that mass beer production technology led to vigorous commercial activity and knowledge exchange among the Neolithic peoples of ancient China, the scientists write in their journal article, and it is this enthusiasm shared about a fermented alcohol product that ultimately helped spark the birth of a dynastic dynasty. Chinese civilization.

New social bonds produced by certain cultural practices are the seeds from which larger, more advanced and more ambitious civilizations can emerge. And the mass production of beer in China thousands of years ago provided a key ingredient for large gatherings and therefore larger social networks. The ancient Chinese civilization began to become more cohesive and united from the fourth millennium BCE, with previous divisions countered by various centralizing forces and factors.

These circumstances set the stage for the rise of the first ruling dynasty in China, the Xia dynasty founded by Yu the Great around 2070 BC. The rulers of the Xia dynasty were able to rule effectively in a country that now shared a stronger sense of unified purpose and identity. And mass beer production was instrumental in this leap forward in evolution in China around 4,000 years ago.

The Dakougang vessels examined in the study, which led to the conclusion that mass beer production capabilities had a profound effect on Chinese development from around 4,000 years ago. ( Archaeological and anthropological sciences )

From mass beer production to the unification of new party networks

Alcoholic fermentation as a science was discovered in China at least 9,000 years ago. A Dartmouth College study published in 2021 showed that ceremonial drinking vessels excavated from an ancient burial site in Qiaotou, China’s Zhejiang province, contained preserved traces of red rice beer, confirming that this particular drink had been consumed for a very long time.

It took a few thousand years for the knowledge of alcohol making to spread more widely. The influence of the mass production and consumption of beer in ancient China created the conditions for a rapid evolution of “mass” cultural exchange and transfer of knowledge.

The Chinese Dawenkou Culture, which was built by settlers in the area of ​​present-day Shandong Province in eastern China between 4,600 and 6,700 years ago, created the recipe and methodology for fermentation that facilitated the mass production of beer. They made their distinctive red rice beer in large clay basins called dakougangs, which represented a major advance in alcohol-making technology. It was this technology that was at the center of the new study, which attempted to find out exactly how the dakougangs had been used and for how long.

“Dakougangs were not made in all settlements, but were mostly found in large elite burials,” said study co-author Li Liu, a professor of Chinese archeology at the University. from Stanford, to the South China Morning Post. “It is unclear exactly where the dakougangs were made, how they were distributed, or if they were traded as trade items.”

At that time, elites competed for recognition in part by hosting gigantic community parties. Red rice beer, a specialty product believed to have sacred qualities, would have been highly coveted at such festivals. Therefore, dakougang-style fermentation technology would have been in high demand as knowledge of it quickly spread westward along growing trade networks.

“Individuals who could provide large quantities of these beverages would have been more competitive for status and prestige in the community,” the authors wrote in their Archaeological and anthropological sciences article. “Particularly if the drinks were of the exotic type.”

Dakougangs would have been placed in the open at parties and other public events. They would have been filled with enough red rice beer to keep the spirits up all day.

“The parties could have fostered an element of togetherness among attendees, signaled various types of information to attendees and the wider community, and enhanced the prestige of hosts,” Professor Liu wrote in a separate post on the subject. in 2021.

These vessels found at the Yuchisi site in Anhui province, China, were analyzed as part of the study on mass beer production technology.  (Archaeological and anthropological sciences)

These vessels found on the Yuchisi site, Anhui province, China was analyzed in the study on mass beer production technology . ( Archaeological and anthropological sciences )

New study proves that Chinese dakougangs held a fermented elixir

Six thousand years ago, Chinese civilization was altered by the development of what scholars call a “sphere of interaction.” The term was coined by archeology professor Kwang-chih Chang in the 1980s, and it describes a unique period when once-separate societies became more complex, layered, and interactive as they gradually began to form a state of more collective spirit.

In their Archaeological and anthropological sciences study, scientists identify the sphere of interaction as a period beginning in the fourth millennium BCE when Neolithic cultures in China “experienced increased cross-regional interactions, characterized by strikingly similar artifacts spread over an unprecedented area, including certain forms of ceramic vessels”. These vessels were the dakougangs, which had been unearthed during the excavations of elite burials in all regions of the country.

Prior to this new study, the real purpose of the 16 to 28 inch (40 to 70 centimeter) tall dakougangs had eluded researchers. To determine how they were actually used, scientists analyzed microfossil remains of fungi, starch and phytoliths found in salvaged dakougangs and in jars and cups removed during excavations at the late Dawenkou culture site in Yuchisi in Anhui Province.

These tests revealed that the large basins and drinking vessels had in fact contained a fermented drink. This drink was eventually identified as red rice beer, said to have been made from an eclectic mix of rice, millet, Job’s tears, Triticeae, and snake gourd root. A fermentation starter named that is said to have been created from a mold known as monascus, and this substance is still used to make this type of drink today.

It was the monascus that gave the powerful alcoholic drink its red hue. This hue was considered metaphysically significant due to its resemblance to the color of blood.

“The symbolic implication of the color red associated with the seemingly magical transformation of cereals into alcohol, as well as the psychoactive effect of the drink, may have contributed to the importance of red rice beer, which was probably considered a sacred substance,” the paper’s co-authors wrote.

This would have been one more reason why status-conscious elites across the country would have been interested in learning the secrets of mass beer production.

China’s elite-centric culture has been bolstered by beer!

In the end, a shared interest in this drink has made it possible to forge culturally unifying links between different peoples. But within these larger alliances, social stratification remained very real, with the privilege of making this sacred drink reserved for the elites.

The community could enjoy mass-produced alcohol at parties. But ordinary citizens would not have had the right to brew it themselves. People would have liked to attend celebration parties of local elites, but they would not have been able to sponsor such parties themselves.

Mass production of beer would have been useful as a means of increasing power among the already powerful, and therefore monopolies over its mass production would have been zealously sought by the wealthy and status-conscious in all parts of the world. regions of the country.

Top image: Ancient amphoras, China. Source: lotus jeremy / Adobe Stock

By Nathan Falde

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