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Thread: History of Mead

  1. #1
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    Default History of Mead

    Ok, so who has done what type of research on mead, it's history, it's relationship to "HoneyMoons," it's use in the ancient civilizations of Asia Minor, Egypt, Greece, etc.?

    Most of the information I have seen that is documented has been from pagan, heathen and wicca tradition. I am searching for good internal and external evidence from "traditional" sources (archaeologists, historians, etc.) that support the claims about Mead being the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man, and of course the honeymoon story.

    I know that there is substantial historic evidence to support the fact that the builders of the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops to the Greeks) on the Giza plateau between 2589 and 2566 were given beer made from water, flat bread, dates and yeast. I'm sure that mead is also in the mix at that point.

    Thoughts
    Is it tasty . . . precious?

  2. #2

    Default Re: History of Mead

    Quote Originally Posted by Oskaar
    . . . . Most of the information I have seen that is documented has been from pagan, heathen and wicca tradition. I am searching for good internal and external evidence from "traditional" sources (archaeologists, historians, etc.) that support the claims about Mead being the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man, and of course the honeymoon story.
    There isn't any archaeological evidence to support the claim that mead is the oldest alcoholic beverage, but some good evidence showing the use of honey in the marking of fermented beverages, possibly 9,000 years ago, if some fascinating work by Patrick McGovern of the University of Penn. is more thoroughly researched. That sounds like I'm quibbling with words, but hear me out. Mead, i.e., a beverage made from honey and water, is well known in lore and tradition, but no empirical evidence exists showing it was first of all. On the other hand, at the earliest beginnings of the makings of fermented beverages, artifacts have been found the use of honey in making what seem to be various mixtures of things -- neither wine nor mead, but a combination of whatever fermentables happened to be at hand.

    Actually, it would be very hard to identify a "first" of any kind in the making of alcoholic beverages. Fermentation in nature was easily observable, and it was much more likely that alcoholic beverages were made by many peoples, at many times, all of them independent "discoveries," so to speak.

    The honeymoon story -- we had an extended discussion on this over on the Mead Lovers Digest. I don't have any URL pointers at the moment, but try checking Chris Haddon's searable MLD archive at www.aboutmead.com. The conclusion of the discussion was that the honeymoon story is folklore, but not an actual practice. Most telling in the discussion was the Oxford English dictionary. Check your local library for it, then look up honeymoon. You'll find that the earliest usages of the word have nothing to do with a "month of meading" for a newlywed couple.

    Hope this is helpful!

    <><><><><><><><><><>
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    Dan McFeeley

    "Meon an phobail a thogail trid an chultur"
    (The people's spirit is raised through culture)

  3. #3

    Default Re: History of Mead

    I found a URL pointer to a review of Patrick McGovern's latest research -- http://chronicle.com/free/v49/i49/49a01601.htm

    Take a look, really fascinating stuff on early use of honey in fermented beverages, lots of other good stuff!



    <><><><><><><><><><>
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    Dan McFeeley

    "Meon an phobail a thogail trid an chultur"
    (The people's spirit is raised through culture)

  4. #4
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    Default Good information

    Thanks for the reply and the additional research resource.

    I think we're both on the same side of the empirical fence. My statement about the pagan, wicca, heathen documentation was that they have information but not substantiated historical documentation, which makes me a skeptic until I find good historically and archaeologically sound evidence to support such claims.

    I am in contact with an Egyptologist who has been researching from Egyptian pre-history (700,00 BC) forward to the eventual decline of the 28th dynasty and into the last of the Ptolemies.

    There are a lot of sites with good pottery shards, stone tools, etc. in Egypt, so I wouldn't be surprised if something about honey in fermentation at a very early age comes from the research being conducted currently. Bear in mind this is not specifically Enology research.

    I really appreciate your help and useful information.

    Thanks,

    Oskaar
    Is it tasty . . . precious?

  5. #5
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    Default Re: History of Mead

    Oops, that should be 700,000 BC not 700,00 BC!

    Oskaar
    Is it tasty . . . precious?

  6. Default Re: History of Mead

    Quote Originally Posted by Oskaar
    Oops, that should be 700,000 BC not 700,00 BC! Oskaar
    Ummm... you mean 7,000 BC right?


    * art *

  7. Default Re: History of Mead

    While not particularly specific to your request. I cannot recommend the following site enough:

    http://www.archaeologica.org/

    Plus as of today's posting, there is mention of humans farming as far back as 23,000 years ago. Pushing the number back over 10,000 years.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3826731.stm



    * art *

  8. #8
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    Default Re: History of Mead

    It is actually 700,000 BC and it is Egyptian PRE-History as I mentioned. So he's not talking about human beings as we know them today.

    He is talking about the transition from pre-history into human history in Egypt as opposed to anywhere else because that is his area of focus. Burial in the sand, stone tools, animal bone tools all begin to show a trend as time progresses, and I find the information very interesting. It's kind of neat to watch the pre-history, evolve into human pre-history, and then into "human" history.

    Neat stuff.

    Oskaar
    Is it tasty . . . precious?

  9. #9
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    Default Re: History of Mead

    By the way those are great Links Mc and Art!

    Oskaar
    Is it tasty . . . precious?

  10. Default Re: History of Mead

    I have no historical data to add here, but I am a huge fan of logical deduction.

    First, it seems almost impossible to me that mead was not the first alcoholic beverage. It would have been very easy for even the most primitive minds to notice that when rainwater got into a beehive located in a tree trunk the honey became intoxicating. For anybody to "accidentally" discover the fermentation of grapes would surely have been more involved. I've done much research on the internet and still don't fully comprehend how to ferment grain, so beer hardly seems a candidate for accidental discovery.

    Second, the honeymoon story. Until somebody comes up with a better explanation than the father providing the happy couple with honey, in the form of mead, for one moon, or month, I will stand by the folklore. This story fits entirely too neatly to be overlooked. Seems there'd have to be a very compelling story to overshadow this one.

  11. #11
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    Default Re: History of Mead

    Apparently the Greeks and Trojans practiced placing both ambrosia and nectar into the nostrils of their dead soldiers to keep the spirit "fresh" until they were sent to the underworld on their funeral pyre.

    From what I've read this was not to try and preserve the body, but to fuel the spririt and keep it fresh so it could be sent to the underworld. It was mentioned in both Herodotus' History and Homer's Illiad. I'll take a look at some of my other reference materials when I get back from Yuma next week.

    Oskaar
    Is it tasty . . . precious?

  12. Default Re: History of Mead

    Quote Originally Posted by WikdWaze
    First, it seems almost impossible to me that mead was not the first alcoholic beverage. It would have been very easy for even the most primitive minds to notice that when rainwater got into a beehive located in a tree trunk the honey became intoxicating. For anybody to "accidentally" discover the fermentation of grapes would surely have been more involved. I've done much research on the internet and still don't fully comprehend how to ferment grain, so beer hardly seems a candidate for accidental discovery.
    In The Compleat Meadmaker, Ken talks about this and has a theory that primitive man discovered mead. Primitive man probably made water sacks from animal skins and stuff. We as humans have evolved to love honey (probably why we like sweet stuff now) because it was a great source of fat so we could survive. Now it is a logical assumption that a caveman could be walking along one day with his water bottle thing and happen upon a bee hive. Having no other place to carry back the honey, he might have put the honey in the water skin. From there it is just a matter of leaving it alone.

    Interesting, no? If this is true than mead is not only the first alcoholic beverage but mankinds first discovery of alcohol itself. A further reason why mead is so special.

    Quote Originally Posted by WikdWaze
    Second, the honeymoon story. Until somebody comes up with a better explanation than the father providing the happy couple with honey, in the form of mead, for one moon, or month, I will stand by the folklore. This story fits entirely too neatly to be overlooked. Seems there'd have to be a very compelling story to overshadow this one.
    Throughout time, people have thought of mead as an aphrodisiac. This story makes sense to with this fact. It seems likely that a family might give the happy couple some mead to get things started in the bedroom! And to make grandkids!

  13. #13
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    Default Re: History of Mead

    Interesting, no? If this is true than mead is not only the first alcoholic beverage but mankinds first discovery of alcohol itself. A further reason why mead is so special.
    Not to be a traitor, but--Just a thought that it might have been more likely that the discovery of alcohol might have come from any kind of fermenting fruit or even a coconut laying around cracked too long. Sugar is not partial to honey. Someone may have picked up the coconut to drink the juice and it was fermented. Walla--
    the beginning of coconut rum .
    Seems to me more likely that since fruits don't have to be diluted with water to start a ferment and they already have yeasts ready to go on the skins and were more common than honey, the chances of mead being first is not more probable but if you think I may be in left field, please don't crucify me and forget I even said it on a mead forum
    Joe

  14. Default Re: History of Mead

    No it makes sense. Point taken.

    There are people that think beer was the first fermented beverage and there are people that think wine was. It's irrational and they are just choosing favorites. I won't be one of them.

  15. #15
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    Default Re: History of Mead

    Who really knows what was first:
    Could have been Apple Cider from the garden in the beginning. Who knows how many apples and how long Eve had them before she gave one to Adam. Something must have been wrong with the apple

    Hopefully not
    Joe

  16. Default Re: History of Mead

    Once again, logic prevails. Mead may not be the first alcohol. At least I can say with certainty that it is older than beer. Although, if somebody came across a flooded barley field........

  17. #17

    Default Re: History of Mead

    Quote Originally Posted by Jmattioli
    Not to be a traitor, but--Just a thought that it might have been more likely that the discovery of alcohol might have come from any kind of fermenting fruit or even a coconut laying around cracked too long. Sugar is not partial to honey. Someone may have picked up the coconut to drink the juice and it was fermented. Walla--
    the beginning of coconut rum .
    Seems to me more likely that since fruits don't have to be diluted with water to start a ferment and they already have yeasts ready to go on the skins and were more common than honey, the chances of mead being first is not more probable but if you think I may be in left field, please don't crucify me and forget I even said it on a mead forum
    Joe
    I think Joe has the soundest approach given in this thread. The first use of alcoholic fermentation very likely was neither wine, beer, nor mead. That's right, none of the above! A major problem when we ask which was "first," is a reading back of modern categories of "wine," "beer," and "mead" into ancient cultures and practices. Take a look at ancient Egyptian beer. Technically, it's a beer. It was brewed from grain, but was nothing like what we would call a beer today. Egyptian beer was flat, low alcohol, cloudy, with lots of grain husks and matter floating in it.

    The earliest archaelogical artifacts showing the making of fermented beverages have little respect for our modern categories. Grape wine is very ancient, at least 7,000 years old and still counting. Artifacts showing the use of honey in the making of fermented beverages are combinations of ingredients that defy our modern categories. The earliest use of honey in a fermented beverage is very possibly 9,000 years old, but it wasn't a "mead," at least, not how we think of a mead today. It was a combination of grape, rice and honey. Neither mead, wine, nor beer. It was something unique in and of itself. Other artifacts showing the making of fermented beverages are similar. They're combinations of different things, cereal grains, fruit, herbs, honey. They're neither wine, beer, nor mead.

    This is an important clue to the earliest alcoholic beverages. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania has found evidence that strongly suggests that different cultures made use of alcoholic fermentation independently, without first learning about it from others. This makes sense. Ancient peoples were keen observers of natural processes and would have quickly discovered alcoholic fermentation in nature. Stories abound of birds becoming intoxicated from berries that have fermented, and there are other examples. They would have used whatever materials were at hand, and probably combing a little of this or that, with no intention of making a modern wine, beer or mead, just something that worked well.

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    Dan McFeeley

    "Meon an phobail a thogail trid an chultur"
    (The people's spirit is raised through culture)

  18. #18
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    Default Re: History of Mead

    Dan,

    What you're saying makes a lot of sense. Ancient people were professional foragers and had to be adept at it because their lives depended on it. Perhaps while they were on a hunt, or out foraging for berrys they would see a prey animal acting goofy and look around for what it was eating.

    Given that some plants have "mind-altering" effects on the human body, they may have already experienced that and were looking for something else that didn't have such a bad side effect (I'm sure more than one or two of our descendents keeled over from a bad mushroom or poisonous berry, but may have had a psychotropic experience before they died)

    To me it makes sense that they would stumble onto something in the way of fruit or other naturally induced fermented source by observation of the area in which they lived and foraged.

    Even beer as we know it was very different as far back as the early 25th century BC in Egypt as I posted above. So it makes sense that whatever beverage they would make would be a basic recipe, and to sweeten it they would add honey. The ancient romans were big fans of wine sweetened with honey as were the ancient greeks.

    Anyhow, I think Joe and Dan have it right. It would be nice to say mead is the first, but based on the likely past it probably isn't .

    Oskaar
    Is it tasty . . . precious?

  19. #19

    Default Re: History of Mead

    Hello Oskaar -- just read your response. Thanks!

    I really want to emphasize that *no one* was "first." Neither wine, beer, nor mead. I really think that alcoholic fermentation was used well before the Neolithic era, although at this time there is no archaeological evidence confirming this, as of yet. When did "mead" first emrge? It's hard to say. First, how do you define "mead"? I'm finding lots of evidence that older cultures did not see "mead" in the same way that we do today. I think, and I'm not absolutely sure on this, that "mead" meant nothing more than a fermented beverage made with honey, regardless of what that beverage was. We still use that understanding today. Is melomel a mead? Yes. Is a metheglin a mead? Yes. Is a braggot a mead? Yes, sort of. What is the common factor here? Honey.

    Lots lots more to be discussed here. Hope this is helpful!

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    Dan McFeeley

    "Meon an phobail a thogail trid an chultur"
    (The people's spirit is raised through culture)

  20. #20
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    Default Re: History of Mead

    Howdy all,

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and propose that our early Egyptian ancestors (Homo Erectus) probably stumbled across naturally occurring fermentation in the early Paleolithic Age between 700,000 and 70,000 BC. We know they used language, gathered food and used the hand axe, and there is a possibility that they even were able to control fire. The hand axe was flaked and fit into a hand very well. It was also the only tool for going on 70,000 years. To me it's not too much of a stretch to figure that if they found something like fermented fruit juice and drank it, they might keep their eye our for more. Especially if they caught a buzz from it.

    The early Middle Paleolithic Age (approx 70,000 – 43,000 BC) was the time of the Neanderthal man who contrary to modern perception was not some hulking brutish oaf. Archeological evidence suggests that they buried their dead in caves, and cared for their injured and old. They developed a flaking technique that provided smaller better formed tools like daggers and scrapers. A lot of these types of artifacts have been found in the desert. As their manual and social skills evolve and develop, their skills of observation and imitation would naturally follow. So to would their sense of trying to incorporate the effects of any intoxicating foods or liquids that they found to be pleasant or "beneficial" to their lifestyle.

    Then we come to good old Homo Sapiens (that’s us) who showed up during the Late Middle Paleolithic Age (43,000 – 30,000 BC). Homo Sapiens replaced rather than evolved from the Neanderthal and their average life expectancy was less than 30 years. Grim by our standards. We see bands or clans of about 20 – 50 people, and new tools started to develop. Obsidian, diorite and quartz begin to replace flint because a sharper and more enduring edge can be made from these materials. Also we have a new and innovative tool, the sickle. Also there was an intensive caring for wild grains and plants that may indicate an early flirtation with farming, but not in the sense that they planted crops.

    The sickle was used to harvest wild grains. These people lived along rivers and lakes and have clay hearths. We also see the bow and arrow break onto the scene. The bow is the first weapon in history that stores energy, and then transfers to the arrow when it is shot. Indeed we see the development of arrowheads. There were arrowheads as small as your thumbnail that were used to hunt birds. Imagine the skill it would take to flake something like that. Again there is a “quantum” leap forward in social, manual, craft and harvesting skills, so to me it would follow that fermentation could be part of that. Especially given that they are actively harvesting wild grains and plants. Heck, they even had grindstones to grind the grain and pigment to color their eyes.

    Then . . . the sickle disappears for a few thousand years. Debate ensues about why and how. But, I think, in a totally non-archeological kind of way, that because of the development of the Bow and Arrow, protein gathering (hunting) became easier and safer. One could be further away from the prey animal and less likelihood of injury or death made it easier to hunt. Bringing down a deer or something even bigger from a safe distance is a big payoff for ancient man. Generally I think they would choose the path of least resistance whenever he could. But, probably the sickle disappears because of crop failure (the dominant theory as I understand things), but in any case it does re-emerge in a few thousand years.

    Moving forward from the Middle to late Paleolithic Age, man’s skills just keep growing, communities grow, social organization grows, man becomes more communal. In the Mesolithic (10,000-5000 BC) we see the development of pottery in Sudan, and the use of Malachite to color faces for religious purposes matures. As we move forward into the Neolithic we see strong archeological evidence of the development of agriculture, grains being cooked and beer being brewed.

    So to me it is not outside the realm of possibility that the earliest of people might have known where to look for some fruit alcohol, especially after a rain. I don’t know that we’ll ever know for sure but it's sure fun to research it.

    Oskaar
    Is it tasty . . . precious?

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