In the final class of human survival, we got to sample beer which we’d been working to make over the past several weeks. Beer was important for early humans, since it was a stable product that was safer than some water supplies. Starting over a month ago, we began by throwing (i.e. molding or making) clay pots that were watertight, to hold the beer as it brewed. Some were made by hand out of smoothed strips of clay, others were thrown on a wheel. We then burnished them to make them watertight. After boiling grain into mash, adding honey and yeast, we had the liquid that would become beer ready to ferment in our jars. The jars were then sealed using a few different methods. Overall, we had about 9 jars which we used to store the beer as it fermented. Over several weeks, we saw mold appear on the outside of some jars, and also on the inside of some. Jars that were poorly made or sealed produced beer that wasn’t safe, or was at least unpleasant, to drink.

Between the classes involved in beer-making, we had one class that focused on fibers- the wools and other natural animal/plant products that ancient people weaved into clothing, shelter, and other products. We used drop spindles- curious sticks with a hook at one end- to grab the wool, twist it into thread, and then spool it until it was wanted for sewing later. The three guests who came to our classroom to talk about the fiber products also showed us carding, a process that cleans and prepares dirty animal fibers for the cloth-making process. We also learned more about the different kinds of wool and animal fibers, and got to feel the differences between them. One thing that struck me as very interesting were the fiber art weavings, similar to the ones that ancient people would have produced. These rugs, mats, and wall hangings show great attention to detail- the dyed fibers are woven to produce a multi-colored image- which is amazing considering how much work goes into just turning the wool into thread, let alone dying and weaving it. As you might imagine, such art works had great value in the ancient world, and I thought it was neat to see that throughout history people always have made time in their lives (even as they work to survive and sustain themselves) for art.

John Timms