Two things tell archeologists more about an ancient civilization than anything else – evidence of what they ate and drank and what they excreted. Archeologists digging in a necropolis in Abydos south of Cairo just learned something new about ancient Egyptians after finding what may be the world’s oldest beer brewery – one of a size that indicates the people who built it were really into beer brewing … and drinking. Did they deliver it using giant camels with hairy feet pulling huge wagons?
“Dr. Matthew Adams, Head of the mission, indicated that studies have proven that the factory was producing about 22,400 liters of beer at a time, and it may have been built in this place specifically to supply the royal rituals that were taking place inside the funeral facilities of the kings of Egypt. Evidence for the use of beer in sacrificial rites was found during excavations in these facilities.”
Yes, that IS a lot of beer! The announcement on the Ministry of Tourism and Antiques Facebook page (with photos) by Dr. Mustafa Waziri, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, explains that the brewery dates to the time of King Narmer, who reigned around 3100 BCE in the 1st Dynasty and is believed by some to have been responsible for the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. That belief is based on the Narmer Palette, an engraved tablet discovered around 1897 which shows Narmer wearing the crown of Upper Egypt on one side and the crown of Lower Egypt on the other. While attributing the unification to Narmer is still debated, the size of this brewery won’t be.
“It consists of eight large sectors with an area of 20 m length x 2.5 m width x 0.4 m depth, which were used as units for beer production, as each sector contained There are about 40 earthenware ponds arranged in two rows to heat the mixture of grains and water, and each basin is held in place by supports made of clay and placed vertically in the form of rings.”
While the existence of the beer ‘factory’ has been known from writings since the early 1900s, its exact location was unknown until the joint mission co-chaired by Dr. Matthew Adams of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and Deborah Vischak, assistant professor of ancient Egyptian art history and archaeology at Princeton University, found it. Abydos, on the west side of the Nile River 450 km (280 miles) south of Cairo, is a well known archeological site due to its constant occupation from Egypt’s early existence to Roman times. It is perhaps most famous for its monuments honoring Osiris, god of underworld and judge of souls – which explains the location in the massive necropolis. The brewery confirms the use of beer in sacrificial and funeral rites of ancient Egyptians.
A LOT of beer. The brewery’s capacity was about 22,400 liters or 6,000 gallons at a time, so that meant a lot of funerals or a lot of drunken mourners at a few funerals. In either case, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiques hopes it will attract a lot of tourists once the pandemic subsides and travel resumes. While the old brewery can’t be fired up again, a new microbrewery making the old recipe might be an interesting attraction at what appears to be the oldest brewery in the world.