By on March 1, 2011 in Culture, Health & Fitness

Proclivity to Drink

People the world over love their booze. Adult Americans on average drink roughly 40 six-packs of beer a year. Europeans drink even more beer, plus 50 to 80 bottles of wine, depending on the country in which they live.

It’s nothing new; throughout human history, fermented beverages have been brewed for heady consumption. The purposes they have served aren’t just for getting buzzed with pleasure. In ancient times, there was a high risk that water sources were polluted with cholera and carried other dangerous organisms. Drinking alcohol, which is free from germs that can harm the human body, actually helped people to live longer and healthier lives.

Many scientists believe that through the course of human evolution, we have actually developed a proclivity to drink alcohol. And we’re not the only ones. Give an animal like an elephant a taste of sugary alcohol and you will make it extremely happy. The same goes for monkeys, who seek out rotting fruit to get a high off the fermented alcohols brewing inside.

What is most interesting about alcohol use is how far back in history it goes and how its use has developed simultaneously in different parts of the world.

Stone Age Beer

Anthropologists are uncertain exactly when in human history the use of alcohol began. However, there are some strong indications that it has been a part of our way of life for a very long time.

From the Neolithic Period, around 10,000 B.C., researchers have discovered beer jugs that suggest fermented beverages were being brewed regularly. That means our Stone Age ancestors likely used alcohol as a staple in their diet. We know from Egyptian paintings that wine was a popular beverage in their culture, going back to around 4,000 B.C. As early as 3,000 B.C., Babylonians worshiped a wine goddess and made her offerings of both beer and wine. Around the same time, traces of residue scraped from pottery unearthed in northern China suggest alcohol was being fermented from rice, grapes and honey. In fact, it is believed that numerous varieties of berries and honey were widely used ingredients in the creation of alcohol in many different cultures throughout the world. The Macedonians made wine from both ingredients, and their king, Alexander the Great, was well known for his inebriation both at social events and in private.

Evidence that alcohol was used specifically for medicinal purposes in the region of Sumer, what is today known as southern Iraq, has been found. In many cultures, alcohol was deified for its healing properties. It actually served a diverse number of purposes including anesthesia before surgery, easing tensions during feuds, providing warriors courage during battle, sealing pacts between tribes and also for the art of seduction. King Cyrus of Persia is known to have partaken in ritual intoxication before making important decisions. Among the ancient Hebrews, wine was a common beverage for all classes, including a source of nourishment. It is believed that their first encounter with wine was during their captivity in Egypt. When they were finally enabled to leave, they missed the wines they had drunk there. In some ancient cultures alcohol was prohibited. In Islamic tradition, the prophet Mohammed banned alcohol in order to distinguish Muslims from Christian and Jews. Hindus and Buddhists also abstained from drinking.   But as one Chinese philosopher stated around 600 B.C., “To prohibit the consumption of alcohol is beyond the power of any man or god.”

Egyptian Decadence

In ancient Egyptian civilization, the use of alcohol was far from prohibited. In fact, much of the decadence attributed to Egyptian culture can be attributed to drinking.

The moral sensibilities that are associated with Muslims living in Egypt today are relatively new to the country. In ancient times, a state of intoxication and even fall-down drunkenness was often looked at favorably.

Kings would often drink beer and wine in excess, reveling in the spirited highs it made them feel. It was considered an enhancer of pleasure and a social lubricant that encouraged good companionship. Sound familiar? Numerous Egyptian artworks from the times depict citizens at lavish banquets, vomiting after a night of excessive partying. In fact, parties specifically held for the purpose of drinking were common. Ancient Egypt is also one of the first known places in the world to have drinking establishments like bars and taverns where people would gather on a regular basis.

Greek writers made specific observation and remarks in regards to Egypt, stating that it was place of many excesses, especially drinking. Numerous texts indicate that there was rampant undisciplined behavior in regards to drinking including public drunkenness, arguments and various forms of childish behaviors that were looked upon only with mild disapproval. However, when drinking resulted in violence, or men taking up with prostitutes, the line was drawn and there would be social consequences including being shunned and ridiculed. For people who behaved in such a way, moderation and abstinence from alcohol was stressed.

In many ways, it seems modern western society has formed similar views to alcohol as the ancient Egyptians.

Full Circle

In modern society, we are well aware of the social and health implications of drinking, especially excessive drinking. Alcoholism is a common problem and the cause of numerous health related diseases.

In ancient times, and still today in many cultures, the importance of drinking in moderation was often highly stressed in order to avoid such problems. Alcohol served ceremonial, medicinal and numerous purposes other than getting drunk. People who were drunkards were frowned upon and control of intake was very often a valued character trait.

But after episodes in history of vilifying alcohol, most recently with prohibition in the U.S. during the 1930’s, it seems we have now come full circle and acknowledged that in moderate quantities, alcoholic beverages like wine and beer do in fact have health-related benefits. The history of alcohol use plays a prominent role in the history of the world and will certainly do so in the future.


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