World’s oldest known beer factory may have been unearthed in Egypt

Ancient Egyptian site in Abydos apparently dates back to beginning of the first dynastic period

American and Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed what could be the oldest known beer factory at one of the most prominent archaeological sites of ancient Egypt, a top antiquities official said on Saturday.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said the factory was found in Abydos, an ancient burial ground located in the desert west of the Nile River, more than 450km (280 miles) south of Cairo.

He said the factory apparently dates back to the region of King Narmer, who is widely known for his unification of ancient Egypt at the beginning of the first dynastic period (3150BC-2613BC).

Archaeologists found eight huge units – each is 20 metres (about 65ft) long and 2.5 metres (about 8ft) wide. Each unit includes about 40 pottery basins in two rows, which were used to heat a mixture of grains and water to produce beer, Waziri said.

The joint mission was co-chaired by Matthew Adams, of the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and Deborah Vischak, assistant professor of ancient Egyptian art history and archaeology at Princeton University.

Adams said the factory was apparently built in this area to provide royal rituals with beer, given that archaeologists found evidence showing the use of beer in sacrificial rites of ancient Egyptians.

Some of the eight huge units – each is 20 metres long and 2.5 metres wide
Archaeologists found eight huge units – each is 20 metres long and 2.5 metres wide. Photograph: Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities/AFP/Getty Images

British archaeologists were the first to mention the existence of the factory early 1900s, but they could not determine its location, the antiquities ministry said.

With its vast cemeteries and temples from the earliest times of ancient Egypt, Abydos was known for monuments honoring Osiris, ancient Egypt’s god of underworld and the deity responsible for judging souls in the afterlife.

The necropolis was used in every period of early Egyptian history, from the prehistoric age to Roman times. Egypt has announced dozens of ancient discoveries in the past couple of years, in the hope of attracting more tourists.

The tourism industry has been reeling from the political turmoil following the 2011 popular uprising that toppled the longtime autocrat, Hosni Mubarak. The sector was also dealt a further blow last year by the coronavirus pandemic.

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