Oxygen and Carbon Isotope Chemistry and Maize Beer Consumption in the Prehistoric Andes: An Experimental Pilot Study

Author(s): Weston McCool; Joan Brenner Coltrain

Year: 2015


The consumption of alcohol in prehistory is a much-studied subject, largely because alcoholic beverages were often central to social engagement, and the organization of many political, economic and religious institutions. While the role of alcohol is known to have been an important component of many societies, the ability to recognize alcohol in prehistoric contexts has proven difficult. As a result of this, many authors investigating alcohol in prehistory have used indirect indicators such as ethnohistoric, ceramic, and dietary analyses to reconstruct consumption patterns. In an attempt to produce a more direct method, the authors conducted a series of stable isotope analyses with the goal of establishing whether certain isotope values indicate the existence of maize based alcohol. This poster describes the results of this pilot study, and reveals a potential oxygen isotope chemical signature for maize beer. Our data indicate that the light 16O isotope is preferentially represented in the CO2 formed during fermentation. Thus, the resulting beverage is more 18O enriched than the local water source. While this method is geared towards recognizing maize beer, it may be that similar analyses can yield insights into the recognition of non-maize based alcoholic beverages from an array of global contexts.

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Cite this Record

Oxygen and Carbon Isotope Chemistry and Maize Beer Consumption in the Prehistoric Andes: An Experimental Pilot Study. Weston McCool, Joan Brenner Coltrain. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 398146)

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -93.691; min lat: -56.945 ; max long: -31.113; max lat: 18.48 ;