Brewing a steady supply of beer to serve during festivities could have helped the ancient Wari civilization's political stability in its 500 years of existence.
In their latest research that probed how beer is crucial to the longevity of an empire, a team of anthropologists from the Field Museum recreated ancient brewing techniques. They concluded that beer really helped form unity among the populations of the ancient civilization and the shared identity and cultural practices that help stabilize societies are still relevant up to today.
The Wari Empire And Beer Diplomacy
Over a thousand years ago, the Wari empire existed in Peru even before the Inca civilization. This empire lasted from 600AD to 1100AD and developed in the mountainous valley of Ayacucho in Central Peru that is largely influenced by the Tiwanaku culture of Bolivia. It is believed that the Wari state created its large sphere of power with the help of political force, and was probably the first centrally governed state of the Andes.
For several centuries, the Wari leaders and their rivals from the Tiwanaku empire gathered and held festivities together with the local communities. They drank vessels of the beer-like beverage called chicha de molle that was made from fermented corn and pepper berries.
A few hundred leaders attended the gatherings at Cerro Baúl and drank chicha from decorated ceramic vessels. The beer that the local empire leaders and their constituents would drink was a light, sour beverage that was brewed from local sources and stored in clay vessels.
"People would have come into this site, in these festive moments, in order to recreate and reaffirm their affiliation with these Wari lords and maybe bring tribute and pledge loyalty to the Wari state," said Ryan Williams, head of Anthropology at the Field Museum.
The banquets continued at the borderland outpost colony of the Wari, and as the empire was collapsing, the revelers concluded their festivities by trashing the brewery at Cerro Baúl.
Recreating The Brewery Process
To further understand the importance of beer in the Wari society, the researchers analyzed the pieces of ceramic beer vessels from Cerro Baúl at a molecular level to gather new information about the ancient beer production of the Waris.
The study showed that the beer was made on site and the vessels were made from local clay. The pepper berries used to make the chicha were also available during drought season, which means a steady supply of beer was brewed back then.
The researchers estimate that the brewery at Cerro Baúl was able to produce 400 to more than 500 gallons of chicha at a time.
"This research is important because it helps us understand how institutions create the binds that tie together people from very diverse constituencies and very different backgrounds," said Williams.
The study is published in the journal Sustainability.