1st Experimental Archaeology Conference Abstract – Merryn Dineley

From the 1st Experimental Archaeology Conference, UCL London, 2006.

Experiments in malting, mashing and brewing


In this paper I will demystify the brewing process, present my experimental work and discuss the archaeological evidence for grain processing in the early neolithic. I will investigate the importance of malting in relation to the origin of grain agriculture in the Near East and Levant.

I have been investigating grain processing techniques for several years now, in particular malting, mashing and fermentation. The keystone of my research is that these fundamental processes are governed by biochemical laws that remain unchanged across the millennia. Practical experimental research is therefore a valid means of re-creating techniques and products of the ancient past.

The transformation of grain into ale is a ritual process – it could perhaps be described as the first alchemy, turning dry grain into an intoxicating, pleasant tasting drink. The harvested grain must be carefully treated in a certain way and a specific set of activities must be adhered to in order to get a successful and drinkable result. Even today, most maltsters and brewers are extremely secretive about their methods of making a particular kind of malt or ale. An understanding of these grain processing rituals enlightens our interpretation and understanding of archaeological remains, material
culture and society.

Merryn also has  a webpage on Orkneyjar.

Some references
Braidwood L.S, Braidwood, R., Howe, B., Reed, C.A., Watson, P.J. 1983 ’Prehistoric archaeology along the Zagros flanks’ Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.
Dineley, M. 2004 ’Barley Malt and Ale in the Neolithic’ BAR S1213 International Series J & E Hedges.
Hough, J.S. 1985 ’The Biotechnology of Malting and Brewing’ Cambridge University Press.
Katz, S.H. and Voigt M. 1986 ’The early use of cereals in the human diet’ Expedition Vol 28, No2, University Museum Magazine of Archaeology/Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania.


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