Cheers! One of world’s earliest ‘micro-breweries’ found

29 Nov 2012

Archaeologists working in Western Cyprus are raising a glass to the discovery of a Bronze Age ‘micro-brewery’, one of the earliest ever found.

One of world's earliest 'micro-breweries' found
One of world's earliest 'micro-breweries' found

The team who excavated the two by two metre domed mud-plaster structure, led by Dr Lindy Crewe from The University of Manchester, have demonstrated it was used as a kiln to dry malt to make beer three-and-a half-thousand years ago.

According to Dr Crewe, beers of different flavours would have been brewed from malted barley and fermented with yeasts with an alcoholic content of around 5%. The yeast would have either been wild or produced from fruit such as grape or fig.

Dr Crewe is based jointly in Archaeology at the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures and Manchester Museum -  both at the University.

Since 2007, she has been leading the excavation at the Early–Middle Bronze Age settlement of Kissonerga-Skalia, near Paphos.

She said: “Archaeologists believe beer drinking was an important part of society from the Neolithic onwards and may have even been the main reason that people began to cultivate grain in the first place.

“But it’s extremely rare to find the remains of production preserved from thousands of years ago so we’re very excited.

“The excavation of the malting kiln with associated sets of pottery types and tools left in place gives us a fantastic opportunity to look at Bronze Age toolkits and figure out techniques and recipes.”

The oven discovered by the archaeologists was positioned at one end of a 50 metres square courtyard with a plastered floor.

They found grinding tools and mortars which may have been used to break down the grain after it was malted, a small hearth and cooking pots made of clay to cook the beer gently.

They also found juglets, which they believe probably contained yeast additives or sweeteners to produce beers of different strengths or flavours. The beers’ ingredients were found by the team as carbonised seeds.

She added: “Beer was commonly drunk because it is more nutritious than bread and less likely to contain harmful pathogens than drinking water which can make you ill.

“But alcoholic beverages were also used to oil the wheels of business and pleasure in much the same way as today: work brought communities together for tasks such as bringing in the harvest or erecting special buildings.

“Instead of payment, participants are rewarded with a special feast, often involving quantities of alcohol, which also transformed the work from a chore into a social event.

“The people of the Bronze Age, it seems, were well aware of the relaxing properties of alcohol.”

An experimental archaeology team, led by Ian Hill of HARP Archaeology, recreated the drying kiln using traditional techniques, to test to test Dr Crewe’s theory in August .

The modern version used hot air to produce a temperature of 65° C – perfect conditions for heating and drying grains but still preserving it’s enzymes and proteins.

He said: “After the beers had been strained, we felt they were all pretty drinkable, though some varieties were better than others.

“The grape was less pleasant -  a bit too sweet– the outcomes are less reliable when using wild yeasts, compared to brewers yeast, but the fig beer was definitely the most popular.”

Notes for editors

A recipe for the Bronze Age beer found at Kissonerga-Skalia is available.

An article on the excavation of the beer-making installation at Kissonerga-Skalia and how it can inform on Cypriot Bronze Age society has been published this month in the journal Levant.

Images are available.

The structure and the courtyard were excavated from 2007-12 and the experimental archaeology was in August.

Dr Crewe is available for interview in London

The excavation and experimental archaeology took place during the summer.

The project team would like to thank the following institutions for their financial and/or logistical support:

  • The University of Manchester;
  • The British Academy (funding 2007–08);
  • The Council for British Research in the Levant (funding 2009 and ongoing project affiliation);
  • Department of Greece and Rome, The British Museum (funding 2009–12 and project partners)
  • Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute
  • Lemba Archaeological Research Centre.

For media enquiries contact:
Mike Addelman
Press Officer
Faculty of Humanities
The University of Manchester
0161 275 0790
07717 881567