It’s not exactly uncommon, around this time of year, to start feeling a little beer battered: to feel like your liver’s finally packed it in and your kidneys are starting to liquefy. Between Christmas, New Year’s and the summertime slizzard season, it’s little surprise that February typically starts with thousands of bleary-eyed booze-hounds banishing alcohol from their diets as they realise that it might, in fact, be pretty shitty for the human body.
It can be easy though, amidst all this ‘Feb-Fast’ rhetoric, to lose some broader perspective on alcohol. Yes, it has the propensity to turn you into a mouth-breathing burden on modern society. But according to an article recently published in National Geographic, this ‘modern society’ might never have existed at all if it weren’t for the age-old tradition of getting on the sauce.
“Indirectly, we may have the nutritional benefits of beer to thank for the invention of writing, and some of the world’s earliest cities—for the dawn of history, in other words,” reads the article, dramatically titled Our 9,000-Year Love Affair With Booze. “The nutrients that fermenting added to early grain… [provided] basic vitamins missing from what was otherwise a depressingly bad diet.”
In other words, beer was used as a kind of ancient dietary supplement that allowed primitive civilisations to flourish. Were it not for the so-called “nutritional benefits” of the odd schooey here and there, these civilisations may well have succumbed to poor health and vanished from existence.
Biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern echoes the theory that grog had a significant role to play in some of mankind’s most fundamental historical advancements.
“From the rituals of the Stone Age on, he argues, the mind-altering properties of booze have fired our creativity and fostered the development of language, the arts, and religion. Look closely at great transitions in human history, from the origin of farming to the origin of writing, and you’ll find a possible link to alcohol.”
But trace it back even further than this– to before the Stone Age– and things start looking very interesting indeed. The ‘drunken monkey’ hypothesis states that, millions of years ago, our fruit-eating primate ancestors were drawn to the ethanol in fallen, rotting fruit by both its pungent smell and the relative ease with which it could be digested. Robert Dudley, who first ventured this theory, explains that: “If you can smell the alcohol and get to the fruit faster, you have an advantage… You defeat the competition and get more calories.”
Couple this with the happy buzz that these alcoholic apes would have gotten from the ethanol, and suddenly the idea of getting punch drunk on boozy fruit starts to look pretty bloody appealing.
Of course, that’s not to say that you ought to turf your plans for a detox and go hit the suds this arvo. Constant binge drinking is still not hugely recommended– and Dudley himself points out that a truly shitfaced monkey would actually be at a Darwinian disadvantage, given how easy of a target he or she’d be for predators.
Just cut alcohol a bit of slack. If you believe in the literature, we might not be here without it.
Feature image: BuzzFeed
If you have a story that you'd like to share, please submit it here.