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History of Alcohol: A Timeline

When did we start imbibing alcohol?

By

Detail of Horn of the Venus of Laussel

Detail of Horn of the Venus of Laussel

User 120
Roman wine ship from Neumagen on the Mosel circa 220 AD

Roman wine ship from Neumagen on the Mosel from circa 220 A.D., held by the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Trier

Lyle Nyberg

The earliest history of human alcohol consumption on the table below is to a degree based on conjecture. We know for certain that the creation of alcohol is the result of a natural process, and we know that primates, insects and birds partake in fermented berries and fruit. We don't have evidence that our hominin ancestors saw this and drank fermented liquids, although some authors have suggested the possibility. Scholars are also divided about the Venus of Laussel: whether she carries a drinking horn or something else entirely is up for discussion. Finally, the connection of pottery to the consumption of alcoholic beverages may be a bit of a stretch: however, some of the earliest music and shamanistic practices were developed in the same region of the earth as pottery, so we can't entirely rule it out.

For further information, follow the links in the table below, or read

Alcohol Timeline

  • 100,000 years ago (theoretically): Paleolithic humans or their ancestors recognize that leaving fruit in the bottom of a container for an extended period of time leads naturally to alcohol
  • 30,000 BC, earliest cave paintings suggest activities of shamans
  • 25,000 BC, Venus of Laussel
  • 13,000 BC, first pottery invented in China
  • 9th millennium BC: domestication of fig trees, the earliest fruit
  • 8th millennium BC: domestication of rice and barley
  • 7th millennium BC: Neolithic China, earliest evidence of wine from rice, honey and fruit at Jiahu
  • 6th millennium BC: Middle east and Transcaucusus, chemical traces of alcohol at Chalolithic site of Areni-1
  • 5th millennium BC: Wine in Neolithic Greece, at Dikili Tash
  • 3rd millennium BC: Widespread wine and beer in Mesopotamia, Assyria and Anatolia (such as Tepe Gawra); trade and as elite luxury good
  • 3rd millennium BC: Herb-based beers consumed in Predynastic Egypt, tomb paintings, models, wine jars
  • 3rd millennium BC: Early Bronze Age Greece, Minoan and Mycenanean wine use
  • 2nd millennium BC: Cereal based alcohol in sealed bronze vessels of Shang and Western Zhou
  • 2nd millennium BC: Barley and wheat beer brewery at Hierankopolis
  • 2nd millennium BC: Barley and rice beers in Vedic period India
  • 1st millennium BC: Grain beers and mead in central Europe, including Barley Beer in Iron Age
  • 1st millennium BC: Sorghum beer ritually important in Kushite kingdom
  • 9th century BC: Maize-based chicha beer an element of South American cultures
  • 8th century BC: First wine produced in Italy, Phoenicians take wine to Carthage
  • 700 BC: First wine produced in Spain
  • 600 BC: First wine produced in France; Massalia founded in France (Marseille)
  • 500 BC: (possible) Alcohol distillation in India and Pakistan
  • 1st-2nd centuries BC: Mediterranean wine trade explodes
  • 2nd century AD: Romans begin cultivating grapes and producing wine in Mosel valley, Germany
  • 2nd century AD: France a Roman province and major wine-producing region
  • 4th century AD: distillation developed in Egypt and Arabia
  • 13th century AD: Pulque (fermented agave) part of the Aztec state
  • 16th century: production of wine in Europe moves from monasteries to merchants

Sources

Anderson P. 2006. Global use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Drug and Alcohol Review 25(6):489-502.

Dietler M. 2006. Alcohol: Anthropological/Archaeological Perspectives. Annual Review of Anthropology 35(1):229-249.

McGovern PE. 2009. Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Beer, Wine and Other Alcoholic Beverages. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Meussdoerffer FG. 2009. A Comprehensive History of Beer Brewing. Handbook of Brewing: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA. p 1-42.

Meussdoerffer FG. 2011. Beer and Beer Culture in Germany. In: Schiefenhovel W, and Macbeth H, editors. Liquid Bread: Beer and Brewing in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New York: Bergahn. p 63-70.

Stika H-P. 2011. Beer in Prehistoric Europe. In: Schiefenhovel W, and Macbeth H, editors. Liquid Bread: Beer and Brewing in Cross-Cultural Perspective. New York: Berghahn Books. p 55-62.

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