Mashes to Mashes, Crust to Crust. Presenting a novel microstructural marker for malting in the archaeological record

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Heiss, Andreas G.
Azorin, Marian Berihuete
Antolin, Ferran
Kubiak-Martens, Lucy
Marinova, Elena
Arendt, Elke K.
Biliaderis, Costas G.
Kretschmer, Hermann
Lazaridou, Athina
Stika, Hans-Peter
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The detection of direct archaeological remains of alcoholic beverages and their production is still a challenge to archaeological science, as most of the markers known up to now are either not durable or diagnostic enough to be used as secure proof. The current study addresses this question by experimental work reproducing the malting processes and subsequent charring of the resulting products under laboratory conditions in order to simulate their preservation (by charring) in archaeological contexts and to explore the preservation of microstructural alterations of the cereal grains. The experimentally germinated and charred grains showed clearly degraded (thinned) aleurone cell walls. The histological alterations of the cereal grains were observed and quantified using reflected light and scanning electron microscopy and supported using morphometric and statistical analyses. In order to verify the experimental observations of histological alterations, amorphous charred objects (ACO) containing cereal remains originating from five archaeological sites dating to the 4th millennium BCE were considered: two sites were archaeologically recognisable brewing installations from Predynastic Egypt, while the three broadly contemporary central European lakeshore settlements lack specific contexts for their cereal-based food remains. The aleurone cell wall thinning known from food technological research and observed in our own experimental material was indeed also recorded in the archaeological finds. The Egyptian materials derive from beer production with certainty, supported by ample contextual and artefactual data. The Neolithic lakeshore settlement finds currently represent the oldest traces of malting in central Europe, while a bowl-shaped bread-like object from Hornstaad–Hornle possibly even points towards early beer production in central Europe. One major further implication of our study is that the cell wall breakdown in the grain's aleurone layer can be used as a general marker for malting processes with relevance to a wide range of charred archaeological finds of cereal products.
Microstructural marker , Malting , Archaeological record , Charred grains , Amorphous charred objects , ACO
Heiss, A. G., Azorin, M. B., Antolin, F., Kubiak-Martens, L., Marinova, E., Arendt, E. K., Biliaderis, C. G., Kretschmer, H., Lazaridou, A., Stika, H-P., Zarnkow, M., Baba, M., Bleicher, N. and Valamoti, S. M. (2020) 'Mashes to Mashes, Crust to Crust. Presenting a novel microstructural marker for malting in the archaeological record', Plos One, 15(5), e0231696 (40pp). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0231696