Dr. Patrick E. McGovern: "Uncorking the Past: Ancient Ales, Wines, and Extreme Beverages"

May 10, 2010

By Stephanie Sawyer, Staff 

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Dr. Patrick E. McGovern will speak on his new book "Uncorking the Past: Ancient Ales, Wines, and Extreme Beverages." The talk will be held at Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 4:30pm on the UCSC campus in Humanities 1, room 210. Refreshments to be provided before the talk.

Following a tantalizing trail of archaeological and chemical clues around the world and through the millennia, Patrick McGovern, Scientific Director of the Penn Museum’s Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory, tells the compelling story of humanity's ingenious, intoxicating quest for the perfect drink.

Whether it be mind-altering, medicinal, a religious symbol, a social lubricant, or artistic inspiration, fermented beverages have not only been a profound force in history, but they may be fundamental to the human condition itself. The speaker will illustrate the biomolecular archaeological approach by describing the discovery of the most ancient, chemically-attested alcoholic beverage in the world, dating back to about 7000 B.C. Based on the analyses of some of the world’s earliest pottery from Jiahu in the Yellow River valley of China, a mixed fermented beverage of rice, hawthorn fruit/grape, and honey was reconstructed. A recent finding by his laboratory and colleagues is a fermented beverage made from the fruit pod of the cacao tree, as based on analyses of pottery sherds from the site of Puerto Escondido in Honduras dating back to ca. 1400 B.C. As the earliest chemically attested instance of such a chocolate beverage in the Americas, it might well have been the incentive for domesticating the cacao tree. Like grape and rice wine in the Old World, chocolate “wine”—in time made only from roasted beans--went on to become the prerogative of royalty and the upper class and a focus of religion in the New.

Some of these beverages, including the earliest alcoholic beverage from China (Chateau Jiahu), the mixed drink served at the “King Midas funerary feast” (Midas Touch), and the chocolate beverage (Theobroma), have been re-created by Dogfish Head Brewery, shedding light on how our ancestors made them and providing a taste sensation and a means for us to travel back in time.

Dr. Patrick E. McGovern is the Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, where he is also an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology. Over the past two decades, he has pioneered the exciting interdisciplinary field of Biomolecular Archaeology which is yielding whole new chapters concerning our human ancestry, medical practice, and ancient cuisines and beverages. Dr. McGovern will be available at the reception to sign his new book: Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages (Berkeley: University of California Press).

Dr. McGovern’s lecture is the third in an ongoing series on "Archaeology and the Ancient World," sponsored by the President's Chair in Ancient Studies. More information about the lecture can be found on the web site of the Santa Cruz Chapter of the Archaeological Institute of America. The general public is particularly invited to attend.

The talk will be followed by a reception and tasting of the Dogfish Head recereations, generously hosted by the Bonny Doon Cellar Door Café, open only to AIA members. For information on joining the Santa Cruz Society of the AIA, please contact Jenny Lynn.