Wednesday, February 17, 2021

If You Like Rye Whiskey, Thank a Natufian


A rye-lovers dwelling.
If you like rye whiskey, you may owe it all to the Natufians. They were among the first humans to use rye grain. 

The Natufian culture emerged along the eastern Mediterranean coast about 15,000 years ago. They were just starting the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers to farmers by collecting and then cultivating wild cereals, especially rye, which originated in nearby Anatolia. They didn’t have stills (they didn’t have metal), but they did make beer. 

In 2018, the world's oldest brewery was found in a prehistoric cave near Haifa in Israel. The residue in it was 13,000 years old. As their knowledge increased, early brewers learned that barley is better than rye for beer because it dissolves more easily and more readily converts from starch into fermentable sugar. But rye never fell out of use.

Like many rye whiskey lovers the Natufians were semi-sedentary, able to meet their needs without constant nomadic roaming. 

Two lovers expressing rye love.
The Natufians were the last Middle Eastern culture that didn’t have bricks. Their buildings were partially below ground, with dry stone foundations, the upper part of brushwood. Although they stayed in one place for long periods, their settlements were not quite permanent. Much like the pre-Columbian cultures of North America, they most likely exploited their immediate environment to exhaustion, then moved to a similar unspoiled area not far away. 

That pattern of behavior continues to the present day, except now when we exhaust a resource there is nowhere else to go. 

As people of the late stone age, the Natufians reached a high level of sophistication in stone implement manufacture, specializing in small and sharp cutting tools.

They also made stone art. The oldest known depiction of a couple having sex is a small Natufian stone carving found in a cave in the Judean desert. 

Some of the earliest archaeological evidence for the domestication of dogs comes from Natufian sites.


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