Early Southwestern Indians made beer centuries before Spanish arrived

December 5th, 2007 - 5:31 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, December 5 (ANI): The Indians of the American Southwest had been consuming food or beverages made from fermenting corn centuries before the arrival of the Spanish, according to a study.

This suggestion stands in stark contrast with the age-old belief that Europeans introduced beer to the Indians of the American Southwest.

The study was based on ancient and modern pot sherds collected by New Mexico state archeologist Glenna Dean, and their analysis by Sandia National Laboratories researcher Ted Borek.

Theres been an artificial construct among archeologists working in New Mexico that no one had alcohol here until the Spanish brought grapes and wine. Thats so counter-intuitive. It doesnt make sense to me as a social scientist that New Mexico would have been an island in pre-Columbian times. By this reasoning, ancestral puebloans would have been the only ones in the Southwest not to know about fermentation, says Dean, who is researching through her small business Archeobotanical Services.

The Tarahumara Indians in northern Mexico to this day drink a weak beer called tiswin, made by fermenting corn kernels.

Dean wanted to determine whether ancestral puebloan farmers whose ancient mud and rock homes have been found in New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado could have done the same.

For the purpose, she presented Borek with three types of samplespots in which she herself brewed tiswin, brewing pots used by Tarahumara Indians, and pot sherds from 800-year-old settlements in west-central New Mexico.

Using gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, Borek analysed vapours produced by mild heating of the pot samples. From Deans pots, Borek developed a profile of gasses emitted from a known tiswin source.

Borek then examined Tarahumaran pots to see whether the gaseous profiles corresponded, and finally, he examined pot sherds that had been buried for centuries to see if the obviously weakened fumes would match his previous two samples.

He said that the comparison of the three data showed the presence of similar organic species, but admitted that more work was required before positive conclusions could be drawn.

We see similarities. We have not found that smoking gun that definitely provides evidence of intentional fermentation. Its always possible that corn fermented in a pot without the intent of the owner, and that it wasnt meant to be drunk, he says.

The researchers are now conduction an analysis to highlight patterns of organic species that might provide a more definite, intentional result.

There appear to be consistencies across the modern home brew and Tarahumaran pots. We are currently examining all data to look for markers that would indicate intentional fermentation occurred on archaeological articles, Borek says.

While presenting the results in a talk at the Materials Research Society fall meeting in Boston last week, Borek said that his work opened new doors for understanding the human past by means of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry. (ANI)

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