Alcohol, rituals and spiritual world in ancient China and beyond: An interdisciplinary perspective

Archaeology Center
Monday, April 15, 2019 12:00 AM
Stanford Archaeology Center, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, The Confucius Institute

Over the past two decades, archaeologists and cultural anthropologists have increasingly stressed that alcohol—the most widely used psychoactive agent—played an immensely important role in the social, economic, spiritual, and political arenas of ancient cultures. Its production and consumption was an integral part of rituals and competitive feasting, a social regulatory mechanism in hierarchical societies, and possibly one of the motivational factors for the development of early agricultural economy.

The use of alcohol is nearly a universal human behavior, and China assumes one of the earliest places in the archaeological record for this practice, dating to as early as 9000 years ago. Multiple types of alcoholic beverages also appeared in the earliest writings of the late Shang dynasty some 3200 years ago. Alcohol may have played an important political role in ancestral rituals and feasts throughout the Neolithic and dynastic times, which helped to legitimize the political power of the elites and kings. However, our understandings of prehistoric alcohol production in general still remain sporadic. This problem is primarily because of the insufficient research on this subject, as compared with some regions in other parts of the world.

The major aim of this conference is to better understand methodological and theoretical issues in ancient alcohol production and rituals in light of new fieldwork, new sites, and new analytical techniques. It is also important to investigate this cultural development in China from a global perspective, and interactions involving the use of alcohol between China and other parts of the world

in ancient times. Recent developments in archaeological science provide exciting techniques in identifying the remains of ancient beer, wine, and other fermented beverages. Many case studies of early alcohol remains in China and other parts of the world also facilitate cross-regional comparison. By bringing together a diverse international group of archaeologists to consider this topic of common interest, the conference will provide an important platform for international scholarly exchange.

We also intend to publish the papers as a special issue in a reputable international journal.

The full program can be found here.