Archaeologists Have Discovered What May Be the World’s Oldest Brewery, Built for Ancient Egyptian Kings
The brewery was excavated in a royal graveyard.
Sarah Cascone, February 16, 2021
Archaeologists have discovered what may be the world’s oldest beer factory, according to Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, which made the announcement on Facebook.
A team led by Matthew Adams of New York University and Deborah Vischak of Princeton University found the ancient brewery at the royal burial ground of Abydos, 280 miles south of Cairo. The ruins are believed to date to the early First Dynastic Period, under the rule of King Narmer (3273 BC to 2987 BC), the unifier of Egypt.
“The brewery was located in a vast desert area reserved exclusively for the use of Egypt’s first kings, including Narmer,” Vischak told ABC.
The brewery site was subdivided into eight sections, each 65 feet by eight feet and containing 40 large clay pots in two rows.
These pottery basins were used to heat up a mixture of grains and water to produce beer in what archaeologists believe to be the oldest known beer brewery. Photo courtesy of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities Ministry.
The containers would have held a mix of heated water and grain during different phases of the fermentation process. The industrial-sized facility could have produced up to 5,900 gallons at any given time.
The excavations also uncovered “evidence for the use of beer in sacrificial rites,” said Adams in the council’s statement. “[The brewery] may have been built in this place specifically to supply the royal rituals that were taking place inside the funeral facilities of the kings of Egypt.”
This pottery basin was used to heat up a mixture of grains and water to produce beer in what archaeologists believe to be the oldest known beer brewery. Photo courtesy of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities Ministry.
Archaeologists have recently made strides in determining the kind of beers produced by ancient peoples. In 2019, the Israel Antiquities Authority extracted 5,000-year-old yeast samples from vessels that would have been used to make the same type of beer that was drank in ancient Egypt, and used it to brew beer and mead. In Egypt, similar techniques have been used to try and recreate ancient sourdough bread.
The newly discovered brewery site was originally uncovered by British archaeologists at the turn of the 20th century, but was not documented at the time and its precise location forgotten.
This may be the oldest brewery in the world. Photo courtesy of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, Egyptian Antiquities Ministry.
Egypt hopes that a spate of recent high-profile archaeological finds will lead to renewed tourism in the country, which saw a dramatic decrease in visitors over the last decade due to political turmoil.
The nation expected 15 million tourists in 2020, but welcomed only about 3 million due to the pandemic, according to Reuters—just 23 percent of the 2019 total.