Archaeologist brews ancient beers to keep history alive


Ancient wines and spirits give us a glimpse into the history of the elite, but if you want to know more about the common man during ancient times, we need to belly up to the bar and drink some beers.

For thousands of years, beer has been a staple beverage for humans. The ancient Romans and Egyptians and other cultures around the globe brewed it. The settlers aboard the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer on the ship.

And now, we can actually taste the variety of beers served throughout history because University of Colorado professor Travis Rupp is a beer archaeologist who recreates ancient beers to preserve them and bring all who them drink closer to history.

It turns out that Rupp also works at a brewery, giving him access to what he needs to brew every recipe.

“I know of a few other scholars that work in the field of ancient beer,” he told CBS News during an interview. “I’m the only one that works for a brewery, recreating these ancient beers.”

Rupp says that humans have been brewing beer for 13,000 years, only many cultures had different words for it.

“The ancient Romans had no word for beer,” Rupp says. “There is no word for beer in Latin. There’s no Greek word for beer either. But they defined the alcoholic beverage by whatever the locals called it from the location it came from and it was beer.”

Rupp decided that people should be able to experience history instead of just learning about it, kinda like how using old firearms from past wars connects us to those times and the soldiers who fought.

“When you start looking into the textbooks, sometimes they’ll talk about alcohol that was drank by a pharaoh or an emperor or something like that and it’s always wine. Wine, wine, wine,” he said. “Except the Egyptians who tended– or who tend to talk quite a bit about drinking beer. And so I got really curious and I wanted to learn more about the average Joe.”

“I had to dig into the textbooks in different ways, physically travel to the locations where we recreated the beers, look at the modern culture, and then start working your way back to the past,” Rupp explained. “What was readily available for people to use all the time of these ingredients?”

“I really take a two-folded approach to it,” he continued. “I do read a lot of literature on the topic and try to look at anything about the cuisine that we know. And then I’ll go to the excavation reports and look for site analyses, archaeochemical analyses, and botanical analyses, looking for, actually, evidence of those grains, those items, those things that they would’ve used in beer present.

Although, Rupp does admit that his brews may taste slightly different because he can only use what’s available to him in the present day.

“I can’t get a kernel that’s 4,000 years old that’s gonna be– that’s gonna taste exactly like that,” Rupp said. “So I have to get as close as I can.”

So far, he has recreated several different beers from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and South America, as well as a brew made in colonial America that George Washington might have recognized.

Predictably, people even love ancient beer and they get to learn about history in the process.

“The public response was amazing,” Rupp said. “I mean, I started getting calls from local museums and being asked to put on dinners to talk about this whole process of recreating it. I think honestly they were just really curious to see what it tasted like and had very, very low expectations for it.”

By drinking beer from the past, it connects us in a personal way to the history surrounding it. Drinking an Egyptian beer connects us to the workers who drank it during breaks from building the Great Pyramid. Drinking a Viking beer connects us to the warriors who invaded France and England and built some of the world’s finest ships.

“It makes it more tangible to them,” Rupp said. “Makes the– the ancients very similar to them in some ways, you know? As a lover of history, archaeology, I’m also an educator and I love to give people an experience. My goal is to preserve history. They help me preserve that history by drinking it.”

Even during ancient times, waterborne diseases made people sick. So brewing beer killed bacteria and viruses in the water and gave people something to drink that would not harm them unless they drank way too much of it. Today, we are lucky to have water purification services to keep our drinking water clean. And we clearly still have modern beers to knock back on occasion. Now we can knock back the beers of the past, too.


Featured Image: Wikimedia


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