Was it beer, or was it bread? Made for the living or made for the dead?

Discover pulls back the curtain on an archaeological debate over some pits in the ground in Israel – holes that show traces of 13,000-year-old fermentation that was brewed up next to an equally ancient graveyard. The disagreement? No one’s really sure if this was food for mourners or alcoholic offerings for the spirits – but it was something:

Given the cemetery setting, researchers propose grog was made during funerary rituals in the cave, as an offering to the dearly departed and refreshment for the living. Raqefet’s beer would predate farming in the Near East by as much as 2,000 years — and booze production, globally, by some 4,000 years.

Some telltale signs were then identified on Raqefet stones: A roughly 10-inch diameter mortar, carved directly into the cave floor, had micro-scratches — probably from a wooden pestle — and starch with damage indicative of mashing, heating and fermenting, all steps in alcohol production. Two funnel-shaped stones had traces of cereals, legumes and flax, interpreted as evidence that they were once lined with woven baskets and used to store grains and other beer ingredients.

[Independent archaeologist David] Eitam has cataloged more than 300 similar stone artifacts at regional Natufian sites and tested their possible uses. The results suggest the funnel-shaped vessels — too deep and narrow for storage — were designed for grinding barley into flour. At Raqefet, these “bread machines” were positioned over a burial, perhaps for “feeding the dead,” he says.