Ancient Brewery Unearthed

MIAMI | Saturday, November 04, 2006

Large-scale plant found in Peru Drink made from molle pepper plant

U.S. researchers have unearthed what they say may be the oldest known brewery in the Andes, a pre-Incan plant that could produce drinks for hundreds of people at one sitting.

The University of Florida said this week its archaeologists and researchers from the Field Museum in Chicago found the brewery at Cerro Baul, a mountaintop religious centre of the Wari empire that ruled what is now Peru hundreds of years before Incas.

At least 20 ceramic, 38- to 57-litre vats were found at the site some more than two kilometres up in the mountains of southern Peru.

"You get the idea that this is massive production, not just your basic household making beer to consume by itself," Susan deFrance, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Florida, said.

Patrick Ryan Williams, assistant curator at the Field Museum, said the site was remarkable for its size. Small-scale brewing is known to have been done in the Andes for thousands of years, he said by telephone from Peru.

The Wari civilization thrived from about A.D. 700 to 1000 conquering all of what is modern Peru before swiftly and mysteriuosly decling.

The brewery is thought to have produced "chicha," an alcoholic drink derived at the time mainly from a berry of the molle pepper plant. Modern chicha is made from corn.

Last year, University of Florida archaeologists discovered what they think are halls for "ritual intoxication" at Cerro Baul, where Wari noblemen apparentlyl feasted and drank.

Mike Moseley, associate chairman of anthropology at the university, said the halls "become a place where politics are negotiated and economic decisions are made." Williams said each nobleman would have consumed up to 10 litres of chicha per ceremony.

The site appears to have been destroyed in a closing rite. The Wari burned the structures, threw their mugs into the embers and laid down a half-dozen necklaces of semiprecious stones as they left, said Moseley.

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