Corn madeWe know that beer was first testified 5,000 years ago in the Old World, in the ancient Sumer (now southern Iraq) and Egypt. But the ancient Native Americans did not stay dry till the arrival of the Europeans.
A new research, presented at the Materials Research Society meeting in Boston, revealed that Pueblo Indians brewed their own brand of corn beer before the contact with the Europeans.
800-year-old Pueblo potsherds from the US Southwest were found to contain bits of fermented waste resulted from beer production. It was a mystery how a pocket of Pueblos in New Mexico did not produce alcohol at all, as all the surrounding tribes did.
The tests were done using a highly sensitive set of scanning technologies at Sandia National Laboratories, a U.S. government facility that usually employs the gadgetry for national defense.
1,000 years ago, Northern Mexico and Arizona were inhabited by the farming tribes of the Apache, Pueblo, Navajo and the Tarahumara. Most of these tribes were known to have brewed a weak beer (tiswin) from fermented corn kernels. Pueblo inhabited New Mexico, but there was no evidence they brewed tiswin.
"There's been an artificial construct among archaeologists working in New Mexico that no one had alcohol here until the Spanish brought grapes and wine. That's so counter-intuitive. It doesn't make sense to me as a social scientist that New Mexico would have been an island in pre-Columbian times", said co-author Glenna Dean, an archaeologist collaborating with Sandia Laboratories.
The team analyzed both ancient New Mexican Pueblo potsherds, modern Tarahumara pots in which tiswin is brewed, and pots with concocted brew for control. The team employed gas chromatography and mass spectrometry for detecting organic chemicals.
"Common, microscopic leftovers of alcoholic compounds were found across all three, indicating that the ancient pots were likely used for the same purpose - fermentation - as the modern ones", said co-author Ted Borek, Sandia researcher.
"There appear to be consistencies across the modern home brew and Tarahumaran pots, but have not found that 'smoking gun' that definitely provides evidence of intentional fermentation. It's always possible that corn fermented in a pot without the intent of the owner", added Borek.