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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Pullman, Washington » Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #293595

Research Project: Management of Plant Genetic Resources and Associated Information

Location: Plant Germplasm Introduction and Testing Research

Title: Mead

Author
item Dugan, Frank

Submitted to: Book Chapter
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: 7/31/2014
Publication Date: 8/14/2015
Citation: Dugan, F.M. 2015. Fungi. In: Beaudry, M.C., Bescherer Metheny, K., editors. Archaeology of Food: An Encyclopedia. Lanham, MD:Rowman & Littlefield. p.308-309.

Interpretive Summary: Mead is among contenders for the oldest fermented beverage, possibly even preceding the Neolithic. Produced with honey as the carbohydrate source, and with a variety of yeasts (most often Saccharomyces cereviseae) as the fermenting agent, mead leaves traces in the archaeological record via residues containing pollen or beeswax in excavated ceramic vessels and metal cauldrons. Archaeological evidence is reinforced by the appearance of mead in mythology and folklore, historical writings, etymologies from ancient languages, and paleo-linguistic analyses. However, given that ancient peoples often added honey when fermenting cereal grains or grapes and other fruits, interpretations of residues should be made with caution. Archaeological reports of mead based on residues in drinking vessels encompass the Bell Beaker culture (Copper to Bronze Age, Europe), Hallstatt and La Tène cultures (Iron Age, Europe), and Germanic societies (100 A.D., Skudstrup, Denmark). Drinking horns, the archetypical vessels for consuming mead, have been excavated from various locations in the British Isles and northern Europe, and are represented in the Bayeux Tapestry and various Viking-era figurines and stone carvings. Mead halls, venues for consumption of mead by Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic kings and chieftains, also have been excavated, their construction and contents analyzed, and their ritual and social functions deduced in detail. Pre-modern woodcuts, chapbooks and artifacts attest production and consumption of mead into modern times.

Technical Abstract: Mead is among contenders for the oldest fermented beverage, possibly even preceding the Neolithic. Produced with honey as the carbohydrate source, and with a variety of yeasts (most often Saccharomyces cereviseae) as the fermenting agent, mead leaves traces in the archaeological record via residues containing pollen or beeswax in excavated ceramic vessels and metal cauldrons. Archaeological evidence is reinforced by the appearance of mead in mythology and folklore, historical writings, etymologies from ancient languages, and paleo-linguistic analyses. However, given that ancient peoples often added honey when fermenting cereal grains or grapes and other fruits, interpretations of residues should be made with caution. Archaeological reports of mead based on residues in drinking vessels encompass the Bell Beaker culture (Copper to Bronze Age, Europe), Hallstatt and La Tène cultures (Iron Age, Europe), and Germanic societies (100 A.D., Skudstrup, Denmark). Drinking horns, the archetypical vessels for consuming mead, have been excavated from various locations in the British Isles and northern Europe, and are represented in the Bayeux Tapestry and various Viking-era figurines and stone carvings. Mead halls, venues for consumption of mead by Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic kings and chieftains, also have been excavated, their construction and contents analyzed, and their ritual and social functions deduced in detail. Pre-modern woodcuts, chapbooks and artifacts attest production and consumption of mead into modern times.