The gods of ancient Egypt have spoken, and apparently what they said is that they enjoyed bubbly beer. A group of Japanese researchers from Waseda University, recently came across what they believe to be the tomb of an ancient brewer of beer. This brewer, believed to be called Khonso Em Heb, is believed to have had the responsibility of creating brews to please the Egyptian gods of the dead. Jiro Kondo, the leader of the Japanese expedition, accidentally discovered the tomb while working in Luxor on a different tomb. Beer was a part of everyday life in ancient Egypt, but only now can investigations begin about how important beer was to the ancient Egyptian culture.
Typically making beer was women’s work in ancient Egypt, primarily using bread from a yeasty dough to create the concoction. The bread underwent a partial baking process before being reduced to tiny bits and then strained with water. Dates were added for flavor and the fermentation process occurred in large vats before transfer to smaller containers for storage and later enjoyment. There are also indications that a brewing process for beer that involved the heating of barley, and sometimes emmer, being combined with yeast and malt that was not cooked yet before beginning the fermentation process was also in use at the time. This would perhaps be a cousin of modern beer, though it would produce bubbles.
Egyptians looked at beer as nourishing and sweet, offering it to workers three times a day as part of their rations. Ancient Egyptian beer was not known to be intoxicating, though myths suggest otherwise. A well-known Egyptian myth suggests beer saved the human race because Sekhmet, also referred to as the “Eye of Ra,” was tricked into drinking red beer which she mistook for blood, and became intoxicated enough to sleep for three consecutive days. Although several goddesses were associated with beer, Tjenenet was, in fact, the ancient Egyptian goddess of beer.
Khonso Em Heb, was not only the brewer of beer for the gods, he was in charge of the royal storehouses during the pharaonic Ramesside period, which ran from 1,292 to 1,069 BC. Em Heb was also the chief of the workshop and chief brewer for the Temple of Mut in Thebes. His duties probably included overseeing daily beer and food supply to the goddess Mut at the Temple of Mut in Thebes. The offering of beer to the gods was just as important as offering women and children.
In true Egyptian style, Khonso Em Heb’s tomb boasts elaborate drawings with vivid colors depicting daily life, culture and religious rituals. A leading Egyptologist at Hong Kong’s Chinese University,Professor Poo Mun Chou, says the recent discovery is significant because of what it can tell archeologists about life during the New Kingdom period of Ancient Egypt.
Although beer was consumed by all levels of society in ancient Egypt, the unveiling of Khonso Em Heb’s tomb suggests beer and beer brewers were thought to hold high rank and importance. Beer was considered a sacred offering to the gods of ancient Egypt. Until the tomb is fully excavated and researched, the extent of how important beer was will not be known. It is known that brewing beer was cheaper than wine and, with the right mixture, just as intoxicating. Perhaps modern-day revelers wanting to feel closer to the gods will choose a bit of beer with bubbles for their celebratory toasts in the future.
By Shannon Malone