• Man is thought to have first settled to grow crops for food 10,000 years ago
  • But some scientists say it was brewing that drove agriculture
  • Beer provided early farmers with a number of benefits, experts say

Early drink: Ancient people may have raised crops to brew beer - not bread as previously thought
Some scientists claim beer - not bread - is the reason early man adopted a society based on farming around 10,000 years ago, a key moment in our evolution.

The cultivation of grain saw the transition away from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle and a widely-accepted theory is that the crops were used to bake bread, but experts claim it was the prospect of a brew that drove the desire to settle down and start a farm.

One of them is Patrick McGovern, the director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania.

He says beer has a number of advantages beyond the intoxicating effects and taste, such as a high B vitamin content, the essential amino acid lysine and the fact it was safer to drink than water as the brewing process killed off bacteria and viruses.

'With a four to five percent alcohol content, beer is a potent mind-altering and medicinal substance,' McGovern told science magazine Nautilus, adding that ancient brewers were medicine men for their communities.

He highlighted how traces of sage and thyme, which contain anti-cancer properties, were found in ancient Egyptian beer jars. Similarly wormwood, which also has cancer-fighting agents, has been found in ancient Chinese rice wine.

Grain cultivated through farming was too sparse to have much use as food and was instead used for brewing, say some experts
Beer also acted as an important catalyst for people to act as a community and was used in ceremonies and celebrations - much as it is now.

The theory of the importance of beer was first sparked by Middle Eastern pre-history scholar Robert Braidwood at the University of Chicago in the 1950s.

Pointing to grain and sickles found in settlements of the Natufians, who lived from 13,000 to 19,000BC in what is now Syria, Jordan and Israel, he says barley was a reason humans settled and abandoned a nomadic way of life.

He says the Natufians used the grain for food, but an academic rival, Jonathan Sauer, said that the basic reaping technology available would have brought in a 'pitifully small return of grain for their labour'.

Therefore, they would have wanted something more rewarding and valuable than food - alcohol.

The theory has been backed by Solomon Katz, an anthropology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who claims there is little evidence of the popularity of bread.


Beer would have provided nutritional benefits for early peoples, such as a high B vitamin content and the essential amino acid lysine.
In a region of southwest Iran, analysis of plant remains found just 3.4 per cent of them were domesticated cereals. Katz argued they were farming and storing the grain to make beer.

He said: 'Thirst rather than hunger may have been the stimulus behind the origin of small grain agriculture.'

It is believed man first learned to make a basic gruel from barley.

Then, natural yeast, perhaps supplied by insects, would have fermented the gruel, and created a basic type of beer.

Beer was actually easier to make than bread.

After discovering this, humans would have started cultivating grain, settling to tend the crop.