hist-brewing: ancient ale

Daniel Butler-Ehle dwbutler at mtu.edu
Thu Feb 25 08:55:51 PST 2010

Merryn Dineley <merryn at dineley.com> writes:
> I work at a Visitor Centre to a Neolithic tomb on Orkney, Scotland 
> - the Tomb of the Eagles. 

Aw. .  .You got all the fun stuff.  Someday I will travel--I hear 
there's a whole world outside of the Midwestern US.

> Now he says they might have been drinking 'some kind of alcohol' 
> There are some archaeologists out there who reckon 'cider not ale' 
> in the British neolithic.

That would devilishly difficult to find supporting 
evidence for.  But, as they say "Absence of evidence is 
not evidence of absence."

I used to believe that cider was tough to make before 
the introduction of the mechanised press, because apples 
just don't want to squash without a lot of force, and 
the force needed for pressing even a bushel or so of 
apples at a time would require some kind of mechanical 

However, it was suggested to me many years ago that the 
necessary force could be attained by just stacking logs 
or stones on top of the upper pressing plate until the 
fruit yields its juice. *Thwack forehead*  I'm sometimes 
too functionally fixed on modern methods that I miss the 
possibility of primitive alternatives.

The difficulty in archeological identification of such 
a makeshift press is that the remains, if any, would not 
only be removed from where it was used (as it would need 
to be completely disassembled after each operation) but 
would also not look like anything more significant than 
a rock pile or, perhaps, a place where there was once a 
stack of timbers. The spent apple pulp surely would have 
all gone toward pigfeed, so there wouldn't even be any 
residual signs of that.  I suppose there might be 
anomalies in the soil pH in the pressing area, but no 
sign of causal link.

Dan Butler-Ehle

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