Earliest Social Drinking Evidence in the Middle East Found in Israel
Social drinking history in the Middle East has been rewritten with finds at Tel Tsaf, Israel. According to the Times of Israel, Israeli archaeologists have found the first evidence of social drinking in the Middle East from a 7,000-year-old settlement site in Jordan Valley. Archaeologists from the University of Haifa came to this conclusion after finding the remains of cereal grains used to produce alcohol in ancient pottery at the ancient site located in the central Jordan Valley, reports 9news.
Tel Tsaf, Israel in the Jordan Valley has yielded evidence of the oldest social drinking in the Middle East. (University of Haifa)
Tel Tsaf: A Rich Chalcolithic Social Drinking Settlement
According to Rosenberg, the Tel Tsaf find is very exciting because it is one of the few known Chalcolithic sites in the region, a period of transition from small, undifferentiated agricultural communities to larger, more complex ones that became urban settlements. The Chalcolithic period is also known as the Copper Age.
Earlier this year, Ancient Origins reported on the abundance of evidence discovered at Tel Tsaf suggesting it was a large flourishing village. Dig findings have revealed large houses that had sizeable courtyards, and huge silo containers, capable of storing from 3-4 tons (6,615-8,820 pounds) to 20-30 tons (44,100-66,150 pounds) of grain.
This means that it was a surplus-producing society and thus a “developed” one in historical terms. Tel Tsaf was likely also a regional trade and commerce hub based on the many exotic items from far off regions found at the site.
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This earlier evidence of Tel Tsaf’s prosperity fits in well with the latest find of early social drinking from the site. “We can imagine Tsaf’s developing community holding largescale events in which large quantities of food and beer are consumed in a social context — and not just in a ceremonial context, ” said Rosenberg in the Times of Israel.
The Tel Tsaf archaeological site in Israel has yielded numerous discoveries and artifacts over the last 6 years, including evidence of beer brewing and now also social drinking. (University of Haifa)
What the Tel Tsaf Find Means
While beer drinking for ritual and religious purposes in ancient times, in Egypt for example, is well known. However, the Tel Tsaf social drinking evidence is a historical first for the Middle East.
Alcohol consumption only became widespread in the Bronze Age beginning around 3300 BC. The evidence from Tel Tsaf dates to around 5000 BC or the Chalcolithic period, making it the oldest in the Middle East (so far!).
The Tel Tsaf archaeologists discovered a starch residue from wheat and barley in pottery vessels dating to 5000 BC. When studied under a microscope, the starch showed signs of fermentation, indicating it was used to make alcohol.
Prof. Danny Rosenberg of the University of Haifa said the evidence for beer production conforms with “the evidence we’ve previously uncovered of Tel Tsaf’s prosperity, expressed in its accumulation of agricultural produce, and particularly cereal, in large quantities.”
A previous 2014 study by Rosenberg and colleagues found evidence of beer production from a Natufian burial site located at Mount Carmel. The Mount Carmel site is 7,000 years older than Tel Tsaf. However, there, beer consumption was solely ritual related and not used for social drinking amongst community members. According to Rosenberg, there is little evidence of beer drinking in the region before the Bronze Age, apart from the Mount Carmel and Tel Tsaf finds.
The Natufian culture was a late Palaeolithic culture in the Levant region, dating to between 15,000 and 11,500 years ago. The Natufians may have been ancestors of the people who built the first Neolithic settlements in the region, which, it has been proposed by some experts, may have been the earliest in the world.
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According to Rosenberg, beer production and consumption probably continued right from Natufian times, but it is very difficult to find hard evidence for it since organic compounds break up over time.
He added that it can’t be said as of now whether beer production at Tel Tsaf occurred on a regular basis or only for special community occasions. “We hope that in the near future, when we can isolate further evidence of beer production at the site and at other sites, we will be able to better understand the role of alcohol in ancient societies, and particularly in those that — as in Tel Tsaf — were on the cusp of significant changes in their social structure as it became more and more complex,” he said to the Times of Israel.
Top image: Israeli archaeologists working at the Tel Tsaf site in the Jordan valley have discovered the earliest evidence of social drinking in the Middle East, dating to 5000 BC. This image shows medieval people eating and drinking together in an ancient kitchen interior. Source: Nejron Photo / Adobe Stock
By Sahir Pandey
Times of Israel. 2021. First evidence of social beer consumption found in 7,000-year-old Israeli town. Available at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/israeli-study-finds-first-evidence-of-social-beer-consumption-in-7000-year-old-town/
Wood, R. 2021. Beer drinking part of 7000-year-old town's social life, ancient grains reveal. https://www.9news.com.au/world/first-evidence-of-social-beer-consumption-middle-east-in-seven-thousand-year-old-town/6b161629-b822-40f3-a882-a092bb667de8