New Discovery of Ancient Fermented Beverage

Archaeological discoveries in China has shown indications that ancient Chinese were drinking fermented beverages, a consistently processed drink made from rice, honey and a fruit, as long as 9,000 years ago. Early evidence of beer and wine has already been traced to the ancient Middle East, but the new discovery indicates that the Chinese may have been making such beverages far earlier. The discovery, by a team of researchers led by Patrick E. McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, was published online last week in an edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The team collected pieces of 16 pottery vessels at the early new Stone Age village of Jiahu, in Henan province. Evidence of the earliest musical instruments had also been found there. The scientists analyzed residue from ceramics which dated to about 7,000 B.C. Results indicated chemicals matching residues from rice and rice-based grain wine, as well as wine from grapes and grape tannins and various herbs, suggesting that the Jiahu vessels contained a processed beverage made from rice, honey, and grapes. Further analysis of a 3,000-year-old liquid residue from sealed bronze vessels discovered in Anyang also indicated rice and millet fermented grain wines, with herb and flowers added for flavor.

McGovern was part of a 1990 team that discovered the previously known earliest chemical evidence of wine, dating to about 3500 B.C., from western Iran. Two years later, evidence of the earliest chemically confirmed barley beer was found in another vessel from the same site. Chemical testing in 1994 indicated a resinated wine from inside two jars dating to about 5400 B.C., also found at a site in Iran. Until the find from China, nobody had discovered evidence of fermented beverages from that long ago. The National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Henry Luce Foundation, and the U.S.
National Science Foundation funded the research.