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Last Updated: Saturday, 31 July, 2004, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Ancient Peru's ritual beer binges
An anthropologist examines the remain of an pre-Inca brewery, Peru
The Wari people lived between AD700 and AD1000
Archaeologists from the United States have uncovered an ancient brewery in the mountains of southern Peru.

The huge brewery was discovered by researchers at Cerro Baul, a religious centre for the pre-Inca Wari empire.

It is believed to have been used to brew vast quantities of a spicy, beer-like alcoholic drink called "chicha" and served to hundreds at one sitting.

It is thought that the fermented drink, made today with corn, was used for ritual intoxication by the Wari people.

The University of Florida says its archaeologists from the Field Museum in Chicago have found at least 20 ceramic 38- to 57-litre vats at the site of the brewery.

"You get the idea that this is massive production, not just your basic household making beer to consume by itself," Susan deFrance of the University of Florida says.

Ritual drinking

The brewery, some 2,440m up in the Peruvian Andes, could produce as much as 1,000 litres of the drink a day.

Such quantities were needed to fuel alcohol-based gatherings organised by the elite of the Wari empire which took place in purpose-built drinking halls.

Each Wari noble would have consumed up to 10 litres of "chicha" per ceremony.

The researchers also found fire pits fuelled with animal dung apparently used to boil water and other ingredients including fruits, grains and seeds used to make the drink.

The Wari civilization thrived from about AD700 to AD1000, conquering all of what is now Peru before a mysterious and dramatic decline.

The Wari empire went out with a bang, researchers say.

"They knew they were pulling out and they had a big bonfire," Field Museum spokesperson Greg Borzo says.

They destroyed the site in an elaborate closing rite, setting fire to the entire brewery and throwing their ceramic drinking vessels onto its burning embers.

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