Wired has a neat article about the antibacterial properties found in ancient alcohol brewed by the Nubians of Sudan. The Nubians are one of the core case studies in bioarchaeology. All kinds of studies in my field have been done with their remains but, as this article shows, there’s always new questions to answer!
In this case, the question was why chemical analyses found tetracycline in these ancient skeletons. Some research and some experimentation concluded that the brewing of alcohol was a likely way for these people to have made an consumed tetracycline. The article mentions the consumption of an oatmealy alcoholic gruel, but I bet that the same substance could be applied topically.
The article also had me thinking about the origin of alcohol in general. Beer was independently invented in several regions of the world, both New and Old. To me, I don’t quite get how alcohol would be so popular. Prehistoric beers are hard to come by. At least in the New World, beer could have been accidentally made by forgetting about a jug of grains and spit, finding it again, tasting the contents, and deciding it was yummy. I find that implausible because I wouldn’t have gotten past tasting the contents, but alcohol does not have the intended effect on me. When I have a glass of beer, the effect is like someone punching my throat and taking a hair dryer to my face… not exactly how I like to spend my social time! But if there was some medical benefit, like treating your infection, I could more easily see how prehistoric peoples the world could really get into alcohol even if they’re fuddy duddies like me.