Cheers! Earliest evidence of beer making discovered on A14 during £1.5 billion upgrade
PUBLISHED: 08:30 31 January 2019 | UPDATED: 13:58 31 January 2019
Experts working on Highways England's £1.5 billion upgrade of the A14 in Cambridgeshire have uncovered what is believed to be evidence of the first beer brewed in the UK.
The tell-tale signs of the Iron Age brew, potentially from as far back as 400 BC, were uncovered in tiny fragments of charred residues from the beer making process from earth excavated with other archaeological finds.
Further finds show the locals also had a taste for porridge and bread as well as beer.
The discoveries are the latest on the road project where previous finds include woolly mammoths, abandoned villages, and burials.
Dr Steve Sherlock, Highways England archaeology lead for the A14, said: “The work we are doing on the A14 continues to unearth incredible discoveries that are helping to shape our understanding of how life in Cambridgeshire, and beyond, has developed through history.
“It’s a well-known fact that ancient populations used the beer making process to purify water and create a safe source of hydration, but this is potentially the earliest physical evidence of that process taking place in the UK.
“This is all part of the work we are doing to respect the areas cultural heritage while we deliver our vital upgrade for the A14.”
A team of up to 250 archaeologists led by experts from MOLA Headland Infrastructure has been working on the project, investigating 33 sites across 360 hectares.
MOLA Headland archaeobotanist, Lara Gonzalez came across the latest fascinating evidence.
Lara said: “I knew when I looked at these tiny fragments under the microscope that I had something special.
“The microstructure of these remains had clearly changed through the fermentation process and air bubbles typical of those formed in the boiling and mashing process of brewing.”
Roger Protz, lecturer and author of more than 20 books on beer including IPA – A Legend in Our Time, said: “East Anglia has always been of great importance to brewing as a result of the quality of the barley that grows there.
“It’s known as maritime barley and is prized throughout the world. When the Romans invaded Britain they found the local tribes brewing a type of beer called curmi.
“As far as is known, it was made from grain, but no hops were used: hops didn’t come into use in Britain until the 15th century, and there was much opposition to hops from many traditional brewers, who used herbs and spice to balance the sweetness of the malt.”
The A14 is a key route between the east coast and the midlands, and Highways England is upgrading a 21-mile section between Cambridge to Huntingdon - which will speed up journeys by up to 20 minutes.
Finds so far have included 40 pottery kilns, 342 burials, a Roman supply depot, rare Roman coins from the third century, three Anglo Saxon villages, an abandoned Medieval village.
The pioneering work of the project has now seen the A14 archaeology project nominated for the “Rescue Project of the Year” accolade in the 2019 Current Archaeology Awards.
The awards are voted for entirely by the public. Voting is now live and will run until Monday February 11, with the winners announced on Friday March 8.
Visit https://www.archaeology.co.uk/vote for more information.