Peruvian drinking den that called time in 1,000 AD

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Binge drinking, trashing the bar and jeering at the neighbours may be a feature of contemporary Britain but it was also the kind of boorish behaviour enjoyed 1,000 years ago in South America.

Archaeologists have discovered the site of an ancient brewery on the top of a mountain in Peru that was used by drunken revellers in full view of people from a neighbouring empire.

The researchers believe that the drinking and feasting ended with the brewery being ritualistically torched before it was abandoned for good around 1,000AD.

The brewery was built on a geological mesa - a flat, table-top mountain - called Cerro Baúl in southern Peru. An excavation of the site has revealed that women took charge of the operation.

Peruvian and American scientists calculated that the brewery was big enough to make nearly 4,000 pints of beer in each batch, which was a considerable production capacity for a population of just 1,000 people.

However, the most amazing aspect of the operation is that the mountain is 8,000 feet above sea level with no water supply of its own. Everything needed for brewing, including the water, had to be hauled up the steep slopes, according to the study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Another unusual feature of the brewery, which was built by the Wari empire who ruled much of Peru at the time, was that it encroached into the Tiwanaku empire to the south, in the region that is now Bolivia.

The archaeologists believe that the Wari were using the brewery as an embassy-cum-drinking den to show off their prowess at revelry in front of their neighbours. "This is the only place where the two empires were making fact-to-face contact and that helps explain this site - it's both defensible and very impressive," Professor Mike Moseley at the University of Florida in Gainesville, who led the excavation, said.

The thatched-roofed brewery complex consisted of milling, boiling and fermentation rooms where the female brewers took charge of each stage of the beer-making process.

The beer was made from ground maize and the spicy berries of the pepper tree, which, when fermented for three to five days, produce a potent brew known in the Andes today as chicha.

In the boiling room the archaeologistsfound shawl pins that were only used by high-status women to fasten their clothing, according to Ryan Williams of the Field Museum in Chicago.

However, the shawl pins may have been thrown into the burning brewery during the last party when nobles threw their goblets into the fire. "Are the women throwing in shawl pins at the same time the guys are throwing their cups? It's a possibility," Professor Moseley said.

The men and the women probably drank together, much as they do today in the Andes, said Susan deFrance, professor of anthropology at Florida University. "There's a lot of equality in terms of how men and women drink. Women will get as rip-roaring drunk, if not more so, than men," Professor deFrance said.

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