The Miami Herald
Mon, Aug. 02, 2004

It's chicha time in spirit: Ancient brewery found

Chicago scientists discovered a brewery that produced an alcoholic drink called chicha for the Wari empire in Peru more than 1,000 years ago.

Associated Press

CHICAGO - Here's an archaeological discovery that the average guy at the end of the bar can appreciate: an ancient brewery.

A team of scientists from Chicago's Field Museum in July uncovered a brewery in the mountains of southern Peru where the Wari empire made an alcoholic beerlike drink called chicha more than 1,000 years ago.

It wasn't just a mom-and-pop operation, but something that could deliver the goods when dozens, if not hundreds, of Wari decided it was chicha time.

''This was a very large scale of production that they are undertaking here in order to serve large numbers of people,'' Patrick Ryan Williams, an assistant curator at the museum, said in a telephone interview from Peru.

The brewery may be the oldest large-scale facility of its kind ever found in the Andes and predates the Inca empire by at least four centuries, he said.


Scientists have long known that the Wari made the spicy drink, but nothing pointed to the scale of the brewery they just found. Judging by the brewing room that contained the pieces of several 10- to 15-gallon ceramic preparation vats, Williams estimated that as much as a few thousand quarts of chicha a day could be produced.

The brewery was found during the excavation of Cerro Baul, a mountaintop city about 8,000 feet above sea level that was active from A.D. 600 to 1000 and had a population of about 1,000 to 2,000. Williams said scholars believe that the elite members of the Wari empire who lived in the city hosted large gatherings. They invited subordinates from throughout the empire, which stretched from northern Peru to southern Peru.


Archaeologists found fire pits fueled with animal dung that were apparently used to boil water and other ingredients, such as fruits, grains and pepper-tree seeds. The liquid was then transferred from the ceramic vats into fermenting jars.

The last gathering was likely the most memorable. According to scientists, when the Wari decided to abandon the complex, they held elaborate closing rites at the ceremonial drinking halls and brewing facilities, then set the whole place on fire. Unknown, Williams said, is why Cerro Baul and other Wari cities were abandoned after that last gathering, but there is evidence that it was due in part to internal strife and natural disasters.