Archaeologists digging in Egypt have uncovered an enormous 5,000-year-old brewery in the ancient city of Abydos. Believed to be “the oldest high-production brewery in the world” – according to the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities – the discovery is thought to date back as far as the reign of King Narmer, around 3100 BC.
One of the leaders of the Egyptian-American mission, Dr. Matthew Adams of New York University, has said that researchers believer that beer was being used in royal burial rituals for Egypt’s earliest kings. According to previous excavations of the area, there has long been evidence that beer was used during sacrificial rites.
The brewery is located east of the Temple of King Narmer and was only previously partially discovered by British archaeologists in the early 20th century. It was since lost, but had been relocated using magnetic survey during the Egyptian-American mission which began in 2018.
The site consists of eight large areas thought to be for beer production, with each housing roughly 40 earthenware pots arranged in rows. It’s thought that workers would have heated grains and water in the vats while they were held in place by clay levers.
When remnants of the brewery were first discovered, more than 100 years ago, the founding British archaeologists write in a summary report of finding large pyrotechnic features thought to be grain parching kilns, which are used to dry grain to prevent rot during storage.
As reported by CBS, this new discovery (or rather, re-discovery) isn’t the first ancient brewery to be uncovered in Egypt, with at least eight other structures found over the years. Although this is the oldest example of a truly large-scale beer production, estimated to bring a total production capacity of more than 20,000 litres per batch.
What the Abydos brewery does demonstrate is that Egyptian kings had a level of resources not often credited to those times, as well as the ability to organise the kind of specialist labour force required for such an operation.
The question remains of why Egyptians needed to produce that much beer. Given that thousands of pottery “beer jars” have been found in and around some of the funerary temples in Abydos, it is assumed that this much beer was needed mostly for royal ritual.
The current expedition is going to continue as researchers dip deeper into the brewery to find out whether the current structure is the full extent of the facility, or if the beer production site is even larger.