I like wine. And the occasional beer. And sometimes a wee finger of iced dark rum. Now, some might blame this on my Irish ancestry, as my peeps are often associated with the raucous drinking of alcohol. Still the Irish are generally a cheery lot, and we don’t often take offense at our propensity to enjoy a nip now and then.
Here’s the thing. Human beings have been imbibing in some form or another since, well, before we were actually human. Studies show that our primate ancestors managed to metabolize alcohol somewhere between seven and 21 million years ago. Researchers believe our ancient forefathers might have developed their alcohol-metabolizing gene following a major climate change during the Miocene Epoch that shifted African forests into grasslands, forcing them from the trees. They probably climbed down from their branches and started looking around for stuff to eat. So, instead of picking food directly from the trees, they began eating the fruits and berries that had fallen to the ground, which had probably rotted a bit having begun the natural process of fermentation, which converted those fruit sugars into alcohol.
Understand that our furry forebears were not ambling down to the local liquor store, nor were they actively distilling anything. That process didn’t evolve until maybe around 800 B.C., when some enterprising folks in Asia thought distilling rice and sometimes mare’s milk—Yum!— were dandy ways to make alcohol. But these early attempts at creating booze were not undertaken for recreational purposes. The liquor was generally for medicinal or ritual uses. Then, somewhere along the line, some recalcitrant human—after checking around to see if any of the bigwigs were looking—probably snuck a sip. Then he or she smiled. And alcohol as a recreational drink became all the rage.
Later, and perhaps not surprisingly, humans came to believe fermentation was a gift from the gods, which I certainly understand. Booze became so important that the Greeks used wine as currency. The Romans gave their soldiers wine rations to keep them marching throughout the empire. Then, in the 17th century, clever rum merchants in the Caribbean convinced the British to pass laws requiring that sailors be provided with a daily “tot” and mutinies occurred if the men didn’t get their rum in a timely matter. Note the law didn’t expire until 1970.
A 2021 Gallup poll showed that 60% of U.S. adults admit to drinking alcohol, with almost 40% saying their libation of choice is beer. Thirty-one precent opt for wine, while 27% prefer spirits. As mentioned earlier, I enjoy all three, depending on the setting. And in moderation, of course!
The thing is, for those of us who do imbibe, cocktails bring a bit of civility to the day. That pre-dinner beer—which I split with my sweetie pie and drink from a Champaign flute because I’m not a barbarian— adds a bit of decorum, especially to those days that don’t go quite as planned.
In any case, I’d like to thank our ancient ancestors for swinging out of the trees and gobbling up those alcohol-infused fruits, so that today we can all look forward to cocktail hour.
The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.
February 2, 2022
In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.
Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.
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