This really raises the bar: scientists have resurrected beer from yeast found in antique pottery, giving a taste of life in ancient Egypt.


Beer was a staple food in ancient Egyptian times, drank as part of the daily diet as a safer alternative to water, and also playing an important role in religious ceremonies.

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In a bid to find age-old yeast, Israeli researchers examined shards of ancient jugs believed to have contained either beer or mead, found at two ancient Egyptian sites in the Holy Land, as well as sites associated with the Philistines and Persians.

Six different strains of yeast were isolated from the pottery. Incredibly, the yeast had survived for up to 5,000 years inside the ceramics’ microscopic pores.

When the researchers sequenced the genomes of the yeast strains, they found similarities with the yeasts used in traditional African brews, such as the Ethiopian honey wine ‘tej’, and also those used in modern beer.

When it came to recreating the bygone beer, three of the yeast strains were particularly successful, producing an “aromatic and flavourful” drink with 6 per cent alcohol content.

“The greatest wonder here is that the yeast colonies survived within the vessel for thousands of years, just waiting to be excavated and grown,” said Dr Ronen Hazan, a microbiologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who was co-leader of the study. “This ancient yeast allowed us to create beer that lets us know what ancient Philistine and Egyptian beer tasted like. By the way, the beer isn’t bad.”

The researchers say that their techniques aren’t limited to yeast, and could be used to detect the ancient bacteria used in the production of foods such as cheese and pickles. Pharaoh fondue, anyone?

L'chaim! The Israeli research team samples their ancient brew. © Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority.
L'chaim! The Israeli research team samples their ancient brew © Yaniv Berman, Israel Antiquities Authority


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James Lloyd
James LloydStaff writer, BBC Science Focus

James is staff writer at BBC Science Focus magazine. He especially enjoys writing about wellbeing and psychology.