“Proposing a toast” from the first urban center in the north Loess Plateau, China
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Alcoholic beverages were used in ancient rituals and feasting, often to embody elite status and power, to mark communal activities, or simply for everyday consumption. Scholars have traditionally interpreted pitchers, a common pottery vessel type in late Neolithic China, as specialized alcohol serving vessels. However, little research has been done to characterize the true use of these vessels through scientific analysis of excavated materials from the middle Yellow River region. In this study, by analyzing microbotanical residues on ten pitchers, two cups, three lids, and one storage jar from the Shimao site (ca. 4300–3800 cal. BP), one of the earliest urban centers in late Neolithic north China, we discover remains of a beer brewed using a malting method. The main ingredients include millet, Triticeae, rice, lily, snake gourd root, Zingiberaceae root (ginger or turmeric), and beans. The pitchers may have been used for serving and heating the fermented beverages. This result not only reveals for the first time the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages in the late Neolithic Loess Plateau, but also highlights the interplay among feasting activities, social hierarchies, and interregional interactions in the process of early urbanization in this region.