New evidence could strengthen the argument that the Stone Age domestication of cereals—which in turn led to farming and "settled behavior"—was intended for beer, not food. Yes, that's right: Without beer, there might never have been civilization.
It's well-known that beer is the best. But it's not quite as well-known that you potentially owe beer for all of the things you love about civilization, like the iPhone, or not living in a cave. The beer and civilization theory, advanced by some archaeologists for a while now, holds that the rise of agriculture during the Neolithic Period of the Stone Age was a result of people's thirst for beer, and not because they planned on using grains for food.
Brian Hayden, an archaeologist at Simon Fraser University in Canada, says that he has more evidence to buttress that theory. For one thing, the archeological finds seem to indicate that cereal composed only a small part of most people's diets, likely because the plants are a pain in the ass to convert to food. And yet, Hayden points out, there are signs that people went well out of their way to obtain cereal grains. His theory is that the difficulty of processing the grains made them good for feasts, where difficult, expensive and uncommon foods would have been prized (how Hayden has any idea what Neolithic people were thinking or doing or what they would have "prized" is another discussion altogether). He tells LiveScience:
"It's not that drinking and brewing by itself helped start cultivation, it's this context of feasts that links beer and the emergence of complex societies," Hayden said....
"Feasts are essential in traditional societies for creating debts, for creating factions, for creating bonds between people, for creating political power, for creating support networks, and all of this is essential for developing more complex kinds of societies," Hayden explained. "Feasts are reciprocal - if I invite you to my feast, you have the obligation to invite me to yours. If I give you something like a pig or a pot of beer, you're obligated to do the same for me or even more."
So, there you have it: Bringing a six-pack to your friends' apartments is just about the most civilized thing you can do. Or a pig. Bringing a pig is civilized, too.
[LiveScience; photo via Shutterstock]