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Experimental Archaeology

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Experimental archaeology approaches material remains in a questioning way, attempting to understand what ancient people were doing, how they were doing it, and why they were doing it. In order to better understand human behavior in food processing and fermentation in the past, we have conducted a series of experimental study and laboratory analyses as part of our teaching curriculum and research program. The processes studied include: i) harvesting wild cereals with stone cutting tools, ii) grinding tubers, nuts and seeds with ground stones, iii) cooking acorn meals by boiling with heated stones (stone boiling method), and iv) brewing beer with various cereals. The archaeological methods employed include analyses of use-wear traces and various microremains (starch, phytoliths, fibers, molds, yeasts, etc.) on artifacts. The results have helped us to generate a comparative database for investigating the function of ancient tools and ceramic vessels. Our on-going experimental projects include fermentation with various qu starters.

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In China, the earliest written record of alcohol appeared in oracle-bone inscriptions around 3000 years ago. Archaeological investigations, however, have pushed back the date of alcohol production several millennia. Around 9000-8000 years ago, the production of fermented beverages in specialized pottery vessels appeared as a significant component in the transition to agriculture. Since then, alcohol has been essential in ritual feasting, contributing to sociopolitical processes throughout prehistory and history. Our research has revolutionized the understanding of alcohol production and consumption in the prehistoric Yellow River valley.

Current Projects

Li Liu


Fermentation Methods Project


Household production of traditional millet-based alcohol fermentation methods in north China, collaborating with Henan University, Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology

Ran Chen





Cacao fermentation: we did an experiment of cacao seed fermentation with their pulps and banana leaves under 40 ℃, to understand the formation of starch granules in cacao fermentation processes.

Yahui He


Hunjiu Recipe


​We made millet alcohol in comparison to the Hunjiu recipe based on the Shimao ethnographic study.

Yahui He

Jingbo Li


Nuruk Recipe


We made millet alcohol by using modern starter Nuruk (Korean qu).

Ran Chen


Microblade use-wear Project


We used microblade replicas to do different tasks in order to provide both low- and high-power use-wear references.

Ran Chen


Red Alcohol Recipe


We made red qu alcohol following the traditional method people use in local villages in Zhejiang


Liu, L., Wang, J., Levin, M.J., 2017. Usewear and residue analyses of experimental harvesting stone tools for archaeological research. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 14, 439-453.


Liu, L., Wang, J., Rosenberg, D., Zhao, H., Lengyel, G., Nadel, D., 2019. Response to comments on archaeological reconstruction of 13,000-y old Natufian beer making at Raqefet Cave, Israel. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 28, 101914.


Wang, J., Liu, L., Georgescu, A., Le, V.V., Ota, M.H., Tang, S., Vanderbilt, M., 2017. Identifying ancient beer brewing through starch analysis: A methodology. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 15, 150-160.

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