The fascinating history of the “Beer Archaeologist”

Patrick McGovern is a professor of archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is also the man responsible for Dogfish Head Brewery‘s acclaimed Ancient Ales, a series of beers created using methods and ingredients that stick as faithfully as possible to brewing recipes used by ancient peoples.

In its article on the “Beer Archaeologist,” the explains the unlikely connection between the worlds of Professor McGovern, pictured left, and Dogfish Head Brewery founder Sam Calagione, pictured right.  As it turns out, the two men have much in common when it comes to a real passion for the art of brewing.

McGovern’s interest in the alcohol production industry in fact springs directly from his archaeological background.  He accidentally created an entirely new field of study when he analyzed the remnants of an unknown substance found in an ancient Iranian pottery jar and discovered that it was a type of alcohol.  He published an article on his findings, and a new culture was born.  Now in addition to serving as an adjunct professor at Penn, McGovern holds the title of “Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages, and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia,” a position that could never have existed not long ago.

In the article McGovern presents some interesting hypotheses about the importance of alcohol in culture and in the history of mankind, similar to those explored in his book Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture.  If you are a beer or wine enthusiast you might already know how ancient people distilled fruit and grain to create alcoholic beverages, but McGovern presents the idea of “wine cultures” in a whole new light.  The article even mentions the “beer before bread” theory that hypothesizes “the desire for drink may have prompted the domestication of key crops, which led to permanent human settlements.”

The article is well worth a read, both for the surprising insights McGovern shares and for the interesting history of the man himself.  Grab yourself a bottle of one of Dogfish Head’s Ancient Ales (Chateau Jiahu is my favorite, if you can find it) and get to reading.  You’ll be absorbing ancient culture into your body and your mind all at once!