Penn archaeologist recreates ancient brews
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Posted 14 October 2009 - 05:25 PM
Patrick McGovern had just emerged from the ancient burial chamber in one of the most extensively excavated archaeological sites in China when a local scientist presented him with what he calls "the real treasure." It was a sealed bronze drinking vessel that resembled a teapot from 1200 B.C. With liquid still inside. "I just about dropped over - a liquid sample from 3,000 years ago," said McGovern, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.
He whisked a sample back to his lab in the basement of Penn's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. An analysis confirmed what he had suspected: a yellowish wine. It was another eureka moment for McGovern, 64, who has spent the last two decades traversing the globe, from ancient capitals to remote villages, in a quest to uncover the secrets of ancient wine- and beer-making
He has become internationally recognized as an authority on ancient potables. When he and other museum researchers were on the budget chopping block earlier this year, nearly 4,000 supporters signed a petition, among them archaeologists, curators, and government officials from countries around the world. Egypt's director of antiquities was one of them.
"You find out who your friends are," said McGovern, whose job was spared.
This month, he released a book, Uncorking the Past, which describes his research, including his collaboration with Delaware beer brewer Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head to re-create ancient beverages with recipes he found.
Last week, at an event at the University Museum, he and Calagione detailed their latest quirky foray: making an ancient Peruvian beer that required them to spend hours chewing purple corn - using their saliva as part of the fermentation process.
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