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5,000-Year-old Brewery Unearthed in China

  • VOA News

FILE - In this photo taken April 21, 2016, a brewer controls hop-pellets and barley in a brewery.

FILE - In this photo taken April 21, 2016, a brewer controls hop-pellets and barley in a brewery.

The Chinese were brewing beer 5,000 years ago, according to a new study.

U.S. and Chinese researchers say they have discovered brewing equipment with traces of ancient beer ingredients dating back 5,000 years in what were once underground rooms in China’s central plain.

This pushes back the date beer was likely first made in China by thousands of years, as the first reference to beer in Chinese literature is seen in writings from the Shang dynasty, which existed from about 1250-1046 BC, according to CNBC.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers say the newly discovered beer equipment has traces of broomcorn millet, barley, a grain called Job’s tears, also known as Chinese pearl barley, as well as some form of tuber.

The artifacts suggest Chinese brewers were using techniques not all that different from today’s.

"All indications are that ancient peoples, [including those at this Chinese dig site], applied the same principles and techniques as brewers do today," said Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the study, in an interview with NPR. McGovern is considered the"Indiana Jones of ancient fermented beverages,” according to NPR.

The presence of barley was “surprising” because grain wasn’t thought to have appeared in China for another thousand years. The researchers think barley may have been brought to China specifically for beer brewing.

“Early beer making may have motivated the initial translocation of barley from western Eurasia into the Central Plain of China before the crop became a part of agricultural subsistence in the region 3,000 years later,” the researchers wrote.

Jiajing Wang of Stanford University, who headed the study, told the French News Agency the beer might have “tasted a bit sour and a bit sweet.”

“Sour comes from fermented cereal grains, sweet from tubers,” he said.