A group of archaeologists has discovered the importance of the "constant" supply of beer during the expansion of the Wari Empire in the current region of Peru, a civilization that lasted from 600 to 10000 AD, according to a study published in the Sustainability magazine.
"This study helps us understand how beer feeds the creation of complex political organizations, and we were able to apply new technologies to capture information about how old beer was produced and what it meant for societies," said lead author Ryan Williams, Field Museum in Chicago.
The team of archeologists recreated old brewing techniques to learn how the drink "kept afloat" the Wari empire, which was active for more than 500 years.
Nearly two decades ago, Williams and his team discovered an old Wari brewery in Cerro Baúl, in the mountains of southern Peru, that had tavern-style places right next door.
Since the beer they made was light and acidic drink called chicha, it was only useful for about a week after it was made, so it was not sent far from the production site. For this reason, people had to come to the festivals of Cerro Baúl to drink it.
"These festivals were important for the Wari society: they attended between one and two hundred local political elites and drank chicha from three-foot-tall ceramic vessels decorated to resemble Wari gods and leaders," the researchers said.
"In short, beer helped keep the empire together," Williams added.
To learn more about the beer that played such an important role in the Wari society, they analyzed pieces of ceramic beer containers from Cerro Baúl and used various techniques to break down their molecules. The authors found out what atomic elements formed the sample and how many, a piece of information that served to know exactly where the clay came from and what the beer was made of.
By looking at the chemical composition of the remains left in the containers and the chemical composition of the clay containers themselves, the team found that they were made of clay that came up close and that the beer was made of pepper berries, an ingredient that can Grow even during a drought.
Both issues would help achieve a "steady supply" of beer, even if a drought made it difficult to grow other chicha ingredients, such as corn, or if trade changes made it difficult to obtain clay from far away. That is why the authors of the study argue that this firm supply of beer could have helped keep the Wari society stable.