It All Started with Fermented Fruit




Occurrences of various animals getting drunk from fermented fruit are well documented and often pretty hilarious. Birds, bees, bats, rodents, elephants and apes all are known to partake in a tipple if given the chance. Lizards largely do not, so your velociraptors 70 million years ago likely were teetotalers, and suddenly Jurassic Park seems a bit less interesting.

It can be assumed that the various evolutionary species that would lead to modern humans also likely indulged in consuming fermented fruit when they could. If I were likely to be eaten by a saber-tooth cat, you know what? I’d want a drink to take my mind off not being top of the food chain. At some point around 100,000 BCE, Paleolithic humans realized that fruit left at the bottom of a container for an extended period would begin to ferment. This can happen naturally, and likely did as soon as fruit evolved, but deliberate fermentation was solely a product of modern humans.

While no proof that humans drank exists due to a lack of written evidence before Sumerian culture, archaeological evidence from before this is more forthcoming. In France, a cave carving of a woman holding what is thought to be a drinking horn has been dated to 25,000BCE. In China pottery existed as long as 15,000 years ago, and it is this invention that made fermentation a controllable and portable process.

Grape seeds from 10,000 years ago have been found in Greece, showing that wherever there was a congregated society, there was booze. I know being around a group of people can be stressful, so it makes sense a stress reliever was not long in coming. In Mesoamerica, there were a slew of alcoholic drinks you’ve likely never heard of. The Mayans made Balché from honey in a manner similar to the Mead being made in Northern Europe around the same time. The fact the two civilizations developed remarkably similar drinks independently speaks volumes to the manner in which human brains operate.

From Alaska to the southern reaches of what is now Argentina, people were cultivating alcoholic drinks. The majority of these had corn as a base, but like the Zuni in modern day New Mexico, prickly pear, other cacti and agave were used to make drinks. If it had starch, someone was bound to see if it would taste good after yeast was added. Maple syrup, berries, cacti (like prickly pear), and tobacco were used to create drinks of similar strength to beers. Most evidence for this is anecdotal due to the peoples of the Americas not having a written language. However, telling of fermenting drinks has been passed-down lore through storytelling and is supplemented by substantial amounts of archaeological evidence.


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