• Li Liu

The brewing function of the first amphorae in the Neolithic Yangshao culture, North China

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In recent years, functional study of Neolithic pottery found in the Yellow River valley has shown that globular jars of the preYangshao period (ca. 7000–5000 cal. BC) and jiandiping amphorae of the middle and late Yangshao period (ca. 4000–2900 cal. BC) were alcohol fermentation vessels. However, there is a time gap of 1000 years (ca. 5000–4000 cal. BC) between these two sets of vessels, namely the Early Yangshao period when amphorae first appeared. In order to further our understanding of alcohol production in Neolithic China, we employed scientific methods to examine microfossil remains in the residues adhering to the interior walls of eleven among the earliest amphorae from the Banpo and Jiangzhai sites in Shaanxi province. Multiple lines of evidence—taken from starch granules, phytoliths, molds, yeast cells, and rod-shaped calcite crystals found in the residues— indicate that these amphorae were used for brewing alcoholic beverages. The ingredients mainly include broomcorn millet, together with other cereals (foxtail millet, rice and Triticeae), wild peas and tubers (snake gourd roots and foxnut). Two brewing methods have been detected: use of sprouted grain and use of qu starter made of moldy grain with herbs. Siphoning through reed straws may have been one of the drinking methods. The results of this research open a new window not only for understanding the long tradition of alcohol production in prehistoric China, but also for investigating alcohol-related social activities of the Yangshao people.