May 25, 2019 | Updated: 09:32 AM EDT

How an Ancient Brewing Technique Keep an Empire Afloat

Apr 18, 2019 08:45 AM EDT

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How an Ancient Brewing Technique Keep an Empire Afloat
(Photo : Donna Nash)

Several decades ago, the Wari Empire stretched across Peru. At the height of the Empire, it covered an area the size of the Eastern seaboard of the US, from New York City to Jacksonville. From 600 to 1100 AD, the empire lasted for 500 years, before it eventually giving rise to the Inca. That is a long time for an empire to remain intact and archaeologists are studying the remnants of the Wari culture to have a glimpse into what kept it ticking. In a new study, it discovered an essential factor that might have helped a steady supply of beer.

The lead author of the new study in Sustainability and an associate curator and Head of Anthropology at the Field Museum, Ryan Williams, said, the study aid their understanding of how beer fed the creation of complex political organizations. He added that they were able to apply new technologies to capture information about how ancient beer was produced and what it meant to societies in the past.

The researchers which include Williams, Nash and their team found out about an ancient Wari brewery in Cerro Baul in the mountains of southern Peru about twenty years ago. Williams explained that it was typical of a microbrewery in some respects. It was a production house, but the brewhouses and taverns would have been right next door. And since chichi, the light, sour beverage they brewed was only good for about a week after being made, they would ship it offsite, and for people to drink from it, they would have to come to festivals at Cerro Baul.

The Wari society took the festivals important and between one and two hundred local political elites would attend it, drinking chichi from three-fold-tall ceramic vessels decorated to look like Wari gods and leaders.

He added that in these festive moments, people would come to this site to recreate and reaffirm their affiliation with these Wari lords and maybe bring tribute and pledge loyalty to the Wari state. Indeed, the beer helped keep the empire together.

To have more knowledge of the beer and how it played an essential role in Wari society, the researchers analyzed pieces of ceramic beer vessels from Cerro Baul. They employed several methods such as shooting a laser at a shard of a beer vessel to remove a tiny bit of material and then heating that dust to the temperature of the surface of the sun to break down the molecules that make it up. From here, the researchers were able to tell what atomic elements make up the sample, and how many. With this information, they knew exactly where the clay came from and the beer of which it was made.

The implications of the research are about how shared identity and cultural practices help to stabilize societies and increase relevant today.

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