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An international research team belonging to the PlantCult project, funded by the European Research Council (ERC), has found a anatomical marker that allows you to recognize that a grain was malted, which is used to apply it as a new marker in investigations.
The old beer It is difficult to trace because many of its ingredients such as alcohol do not keep well. However, a new analysis of the malted grain indicates that the structure of your cells can be maintained for millennia.
This evidence could help complete the archaeological record of beer consumption, offering a general idea about its social, ritual and dietary role in prehistoric and ancient cultures.
Brewing beer requires the malt, which is obtained from cereals (especially barley) when they are germinated and then dried with hot air, which is known as roasting.
This process causes much evidence to be lost along the way, such as the starch that is saccharified, or the cellulose in the cell walls, which breaks down.
These structural changes include thinning of the outer cell walls, affecting the set of protein granules called aleurone.
Researchers Andreas Heiss, Marian Berihuete Azorin and their team colleagues analyzed whether cell wall thinning would still be visible in malted grains thousands of years ago through simulation with baking, and identifying similar patterns in waste from mud boilers used as Egyptian beer containers, found in two of the most famous egyptian breweries, those of Hierakonpolis and Tell el-Farkha, dated between 5,000 and 6,000 years old.
In turn, the researchers analyzed remains of malted grains in settlements of similar age in Germany called Sipplingen-Osthafen and Hornstaad-Hörnlesites, where they had no knowledge of tools associated with brewing, but found the same pattern as in Egypt, thus finding the oldest evidence of the treatment of malt in central Europe.
This would be found in one of the settlements in Germany, due to the discovery of characteristics associated with liquids in the studied materials, although they clarify that those found in other sites could be other types of malted foods such as bread or porridge.
In this sense, Heiss points out that “Structural changes in grain during germination, described decades ago by plant physiologists and beer scientists alike, have now become a diagnostic anatomical marker for archaeological malt, even if the grains in question are only preserved as pulverized and burnt crusts on ceramic”.
He added that “A secondary surprise from the study is the confirmation of malt-based beverage production (and perhaps brewing) in central Europe as early as the fourth millennium BC, finding the oldest evidence of malt-based foods in the Neolithic in central Europe«.
«Mashes to Mashes, Crust to Crust. Presenting a novel microstructural marker for malting in the archaeological record ”, AG Heiss, M. Berihuete Azorín, F. Antolín, L. Kubiak-Martens, E. Marinova, EK Arendt, C. Biliaderis, H. Kretschmer, A. Lazaridou, H.-P. Stika, M. Zarnkow, M. Baba, N. Bleicher, K. M. Ciałowicz, M. Chłodnicki, I. Matuschik, H. Schlichtherle, S. Valamoti
PLOS ONE 2020
DOI: 10.1371 / journal.pone.0231696
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