Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The 300,000-year-old discovery shows why humans were expected to get drunk
Ancient Britons were drinking rye beer and eating blue cheese more than 2,700 years ago, archaeological studies have shown.
It means that humans were drinking beer and fermenting food in the same way – something which historians had thought was “postmodern” and so didn’t happen.
The discovery by archaeologists from the School of Archaeology at Durham University is to be published in the scientific journal Current Anthropology.
It shows how humans were understood to be domesticated when they came out of Africa 2,500 years ago.
I’m delighted by the findings because they are consistent with what I have been leading my team to believe for the last 20 years
Professor Nick Jennings
Department of Archaeology, Durham University
Published in Current Anthropology, it shows where the beer comes from. It was found in the middle of an arid coastal plain in East Yorkshire.
Its archaeological evidence provides new insights into the origins of beer in the UK
Dr Stephen Miles, a senior lecturer at Durham University, and his team have been working with the Maritime Archaeology Trust at Howden, a tiny village on the east coast of Yorkshire.
The area dates back 5,000 years and the first ale was produced here a few years before the second world war.
The researchers have found several mud-pitted sites containing the beer, one from 50,000 years ago.
Professor Nick Jennings said that he was delighted with the findings.
Image copyright PA Image caption Archaeologists from Durham University and the Maritime Archaeology Trust found the first ale in Howden about 50,000 years ago
“We have found a variety of stews, salt cod,, oatmeal, barley, rye, oats and hazel, and a number of chemicals – dandelion, murr and scilla. We think it was probably a grey malty ale which probably had the flavour of a bit of yeast.”
Dr Miles said that cultures around the world for thousands of years believed that “people had to do without beer”.
But a classic Ice Age hunter-gatherer culture, in which people were ‘big game’ hunters, spent thousands of years in areas with a climate supportive of a resource known as beer.
Image copyright PA Image caption The Ice Age culture used oak barrels and wider-gauge malting blocks to grind and grind barley
He said: “So the body of evidence is not a good demonstration for brewing culture being replaced by any of the many modern beers – it’s more a good support for a body of evidence that speaks to a real dependence that we should care about in the past.”
Dr Miles also thinks that it means humans were suited to being Brits.
“Now we know at a minimum people who drink beer are going to be interesting, interesting people.”
Image copyright PA Image caption Professor Jennings said that because the palaeolithic tribes used rye beer, this meant beer had cultural significance in British society
Professor Jennings added: “I’m delighted by the findings because they are consistent with what I have been leading my team to believe for the last 20 years.
“While every history course gives examples of human beings who drank beer, there are very few really convincing examples of it happening as part of a whole society where it had a popular culture.”
He added that being different, as a settler population of a country, helped make Britain unique.
“I was very happy that we are doing something different, experimenting a bit.”
The paper, entitled “Blue from the Wild”, was co-authored by co-director Professor Stephen Miles, Durham University School of Archaeology, and archaeologists Dean Hedley and Helen Simpson.