Fermented beverage and food storage in 13,000 y-old stone mortars at Raqefet Cave, Israel: Investigating Natufian ritual feasting
Fermented and alcoholic beverages played a pivotal role in feastings and social events in past agricultural and urban societies across the globe, but the origins of the sophisticated relevant technologies remain elusive. It has long been speculated that the thirst for beer may have been the stimulus behind cereal domestication, which led to a major social-technological change in human history; but this hypothesis has been highly controversial. We report here of the earliest archaeological evidence for cereal-based beer brewing by a semi-sedentary, foraging people. The current project incorporates experimental study, contextual examination, and use-wear and residue analyses of three stone mortars from a Natufian burial site at Raqefet Cave, Israel (13,700–11,700 cal. BP). The results of the analyses indicate that the Natufians exploited at least seven plant taxa, including wheat or barley, oat, legumes and bast fibers (including flax). They packed plant-foods, including malted wheat/barley, in fiber-made containers and stored them in boulder mortars. They used bedrock mortars for pounding and cooking plant-foods, including brewing wheat/barley-based beer likely served in ritual feasts ca. 13,000 years ago. These innovations predated the appearance of domesticated cereals by several millennia in the Near East.