Antibiotics in Ancient Bone: Beer

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Take two beers and call me in the morning? Scientists now think that some ancient civilizations may have used beer as a source of antibiotics. I’m Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Bones recovered from archaeological sites in Sudan, in Africa, contain traces of tetracycline, indicating to scientists that streptomycedes — a bacteria that causes the growth of tetracycline — was consumed by these early Sudanese in two of the staples of their diet: bread and beer.

“Streptomycedes is a very common soil bacteria. They’re storing the grain in mud bins.”

George Armelagos is an Anthropology professor at Emory University. By researching ancient beer-making recipes, he and his colleagues have been able to reproduce the same kind of beer that people in the Sudan drank more than 2,000 years ago.

“Then they would take some of that grain and they would make it into a dough, and they would bake it very hot temperature for a short amount of time. And then they’d take some of the rest of the grain, and they would malt it. You lay it out on cloth and you’d put water on it and it essentially germinates. And then when that grain germinates, that’s releasing the sugars that are essential in the brewing process. So you’d take that malted grain and you would grind it up and put it in water for a couple of days , and what happens is the fermentation occurs. So when we talk about this, many of the students think, well, is it like “this Bud’s for you” type beer? And it really isn’t. What it is is it’s more of a cereal gruel. It has sort of a sour mash taste to it. And what probably happens is that people drink the beer as essentially a nutrient. And their kids will probably eat what is left on the bottom of the vat. So both the kids, and the adults are getting therapeutic doses of tetracycline.”

And as we all know, if it was good for you, it wasn’t supposed to taste good.

If you’d like to hear about our new Pulse of the Planet CD, please visit our website at pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation.

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Antibiotics in Ancient Bone: Beer

Take two beers and call me in the morning? Scientists now think that some ancient civilizations may have used bread and beer as a source of antibiotics.
Air Date:01/23/2001
Scientist:
Transcript:

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Take two beers and call me in the morning? Scientists now think that some ancient civilizations may have used beer as a source of antibiotics. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet. Bones recovered from archaeological sites in Sudan, in Africa, contain traces of tetracycline, indicating to scientists that streptomycedes -- a bacteria that causes the growth of tetracycline -- was consumed by these early Sudanese in two of the staples of their diet: bread and beer.

"Streptomycedes is a very common soil bacteria. They're storing the grain in mud bins."

George Armelagos is an Anthropology professor at Emory University. By researching ancient beer-making recipes, he and his colleagues have been able to reproduce the same kind of beer that people in the Sudan drank more than 2,000 years ago.

"Then they would take some of that grain and they would make it into a dough, and they would bake it very hot temperature for a short amount of time. And then they'd take some of the rest of the grain, and they would malt it. You lay it out on cloth and you'd put water on it and it essentially germinates. And then when that grain germinates, that's releasing the sugars that are essential in the brewing process. So you'd take that malted grain and you would grind it up and put it in water for a couple of days , and what happens is the fermentation occurs. So when we talk about this, many of the students think, well, is it like "this Bud's for you" type beer? And it really isn't. What it is is it's more of a cereal gruel. It has sort of a sour mash taste to it. And what probably happens is that people drink the beer as essentially a nutrient. And their kids will probably eat what is left on the bottom of the vat. So both the kids, and the adults are getting therapeutic doses of tetracycline."

And as we all know, if it was good for you, it wasn't supposed to taste good.

If you'd like to hear about our new Pulse of the Planet CD, please visit our website at pulseplanet.com. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation.

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