Beer Helped Us Build Society

Beer may have helped humans develop civilization.

An essay published in the New York Times on Friday, written by Jeffrey P. Kahn, explains how losing our inhibitions may have helped us build society. Kahn is a clinical associate psychiatry professor at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and author of Angst: Origins of Anxiety and Depression.

In his book, Kahn explains that our inhibitions were vital for survival in prehistory. He identifies five inhibitions that protected us during our early days: panic anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, atypical depression and melancholic depression.

"They kept us safely codependent with our fellow clan members, assigned us a rank in the pecking order, made sure we all did our chores, discouraged us from offending others and removed us from this social coil when we became a drag on shared resources," he wrote.

However, these inhibitions that kept us safe also, obviously, inhibited us, and kept us from taking risks that allowed us to advance society. They didn't encourage us to make art, or seek romance, or invent, explore and experiment.

Beer offered a way to make us braver, more romantic and bolder. How an already very brave early human managed to discover beer is unknown. But scientists believe that we were drinking beer as early as 10,000 years ago. And while most believe that we first cultivated wheat for food, some scholars have believed since the 1950s that humans grew wheat for beer before they used it for food.

And new study published this month from scientists at Simon Fraser University in Canada, have found ancient evidence that may prove this theory. The study, authored by Brian Hayden examined tools from the Natufian people in the Eastern Mediterranean that may have been used for brewing beer. The researchers also concluded that beer was important for feasting in the time known as the Late Epipaleolithic era, about 10,000 years ago.

Other studies of Mexican societies also support this theory. A precursor to modern corn, teosinte was poorly suited for making food, but was great for making beer. Generations later, Mexican farmers domesticated teosinte into the maize that we know today.

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