Bohemian Mojo has something to admit. We’re currently obsessed with a girl from the Scottish Highlands. She’s called Ava and she’s about 5’5’’ tall with the most amazing air of mystery about her.  Of course, it is almost impossible not to be mysterious when your remains are roughly 3,700 years old.

Yes, our current obsession is an amazing representative of the Bronze Age Beaker people and we think she’s awesome. Researchers believe she was somewhere between 18-22 years old when she actually died and maybe even.

Ava is not her real name, rather she’s named for the Achavanich site located in the Scottish Highlands, where her remains were first unearthed. She’s a fascinating find and I have been avidly following her progress for the past year or so. Last August she gained popularity when a forensic artist created a potential reconstruction of her face.

While I’m most definitely intrigued by the replication of her visage, truth be told, what I’m really fascinated by are the contents found in the accompanying beaker. Why? Because the beaker contained the remnants of ancient foodstuff, clues to the dietary habits of these Neolithic people.

beakerAs Bohemian Mojo is committed to investigating the past and seeing how it can inform the present, it only makes sense to be completely intrigued by Ava and her beaker of goodies.   

Judging by the contents, it appears her beaker contained all the right ingredients for a pretty awesome ancient ale; specially prepared cereal grain, possibly malted, combined with honey, various herbs, fruits, and flowers; including meadowsweet, bramble, and wood sage, and the sap from birch and alder trees.*

Some people have even theorized based on some of the other contents in the burial site, that perhaps she was an esteemed maker of ale and malt. As much as I like the idea of ancient ale, I’m not so quick to jump to that conclusion.

If the beaker contained remnants of cereal grain, that would imply something a bit heartier and more akin to fermented mash or porridge. This makes total sense given that ancient peoples were well aware of the health and preservative properties of fermented foods. In fact, there is an example of fermented grain dishes in just about every ancient culture. Many of which are still enjoyed in many cultures of modern day.  

Take for example a traditional Arabic dish called Kishk, which is made from fermented wheat and milk. How about some Ogi, which is fermented corn, sorghum, and/or millet from West Africa. Nuruk is a fermented grain porridge from Korea.  Mostly, it seems if we give any credence at all to the principles of Occam’s razor (the simplest theory is sometimes the best) it seems that we may need look no further than the ancient Scottish dish known as Sowans.

kutia smSowans, also called Virpa (Bender, 2006), is made from soaking and fermenting the starchy part of oats and/or wheat then mixing with butter, milk, or whatever else is available to turn this soured mixture into a meal. There is a similar fermented oat dish found in Irish culture.; oats cooked, cooled, and fermented then used in a variety of ways as a supplement or mainstay of a meal.

It seems to us the food in Ava’s beaker was a lovingly prepared last meal, meant to nourish her on to the afterlife. The combination of herbs, flowers, fruits, honey, and sap are surprisingly similar to those found in the funerary rites of other ancient cultures, where foods were preserved and placed within reach of the deceased as a means of sustenance for their journey.

Regardless of whether it was a meal or simply some sort of libation, there is something comforting about the ingredients found in Ava’s beaker. They are all ingredients which are still readily available in the landscape today. It feels like it forges and deepens a connection between past and present and serves as a reminder for us to look to the wilds, the seasons, the natural world for nourishment, body, mind, and spirit.

References and photo credit:

  1. A. Bender (2006). Benders' Dictionary of Nutrition and Food Technology. Elsevier Science; 439. ISBN 978-1-84569-165-3.
*according to Dr. Brian Moffat Archeo-ethno-pharmacologist and Director of Investigation for Soutra Hospital Archaeo-ethno-pharmacological Research Project (SHARP).