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Alcohol, rituals and spiritual world in ancient China and beyond: An Interdisciplinary Perspective


alcohol symposium 2019

April 15-16, 9:00 am - 5:30 pm  Stanford Archaeology Center Building 500



Over the past two decades, archaeologists and cultural anthropologists have increasingly stressed that alcohol— the most widely used psychoactive agent—played an immensely important role in the social, economic, spiritual, and political arenas of ancient cultures. The use of alcohol is nearly a universal human behavior, and China assumes one of the earliest places in the archaeological record for this practice, dating to as early as 9000 years ago. Multiple types of alcoholic beverages also appeared in the earliest writings of the late Shang dynasty some 3200 years ago. Alcohol may have played an important political role in ancestral rituals and feasts throughout the Neolithic and dynastic times, which helped to legitimize the political power of the elites and kings. However, our understandings of prehistoric alcohol production in general still remain sporadic. This problem is primarily because of the insufficient research on this subject, as compared with some regions in other parts of the world.

The major aim of this conference is to better understand methodological and theoretical issues in ancient alcohol production and rituals in light of new fieldwork, new sites, and new analytical techniques. It is also important to investigate this cultural development in China from a global perspective, and interactions involving the use of alcohol between China and other parts of the world in ancient times. Recent developments in archaeological science provide exciting techniques in identifying the remains of ancient beer, wine, and other fermented beverages. Many case studies of early alcohol remain in China and other parts of the world also facilitate cross-regional comparison. By bringing together a diverse international group of archaeologists to consider this topic of common interest, the conference will provide an important platform for international scholarly exchange.


The conference included scholars from institutions in the US, China, the UK, and Greece. Speakers presented recent developments in methodological and theoretical issues in ancient alcohol production and engaged in lively discussion and debate. Presentations focused on archaeological, ethnographic, and historical perspectives on the study of ancient alcohol, covering a broad range of geographical regions, including Africa, East Asia, Europe, Mesopotamia, and Mesoamerica.


In commemoration of Connie Chin (1946-2020).



John W. Arthur (Univ. of South Florida St. Petersburg)

Masahiro Baba (Waseda University)

Ran Chen (Stanford University)

Stephen Dueppen (University of Oregon)

David Edwards (University of Leicester)

Suofei Feng (Stanford University)

Renee Friedman (University of Oxford)

Daphne Gallagher (University of Oregon)

Junko Habu (University of California, Berkeley)

Yahui He (Stanford University)

Min Li (University of California, Los Angeles)

Li Liu (Stanford University)

Patrick McGovern (University of Pennsylvania)

Tate Paulette (North Carolina State University)

Duo Tian (Northwest University)

Soultana Maria Valamoti (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)

Jiajing Wang (Stanford University)

Rui Wen (Northwest University)


Alcohol, Rituals and Politics in the Ancient World: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, Special Issue for Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.




The conference was supported by the Stanford Archaeology Center, Confucius Institute of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures, and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

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