The oldest of old breweries

It is well known to historians, of beer and otherwise, that the ancient Egyptians were among the first brewers, if not the first. However, few people knew just how ancient.

A Polish archaeological excavation team appears to have cleared that up by unearthing the largest and oldest brewery in Egypt, an operation in use in the Nile Delta well before the country's first monarch.

Farouq Hosney, Egyptian minister of culture, announced this week that the site discovered in Tall al-Farkha, in the northern province of Dakahliya, on March 8 dates to about 3500 B.C., a period known to Egyptologists as Naqada II D and C.

The archaeologists, who have been working in the area since 1998, also discovered a cemetery with 33 graves belonging to middle and lower class ancient Egyptians. The head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities announced that the Polish mission also discovered a deposit of 65 items inside a small pottery jar dating back to the beginning of the 1st Dynasty, among them hippo ivory figurines of humans, animals, boats and game pieces.

Miniature stones and several vases also were found, along with golden foils used in covering two wooden statues whose lengths ranged between 35 and 70cm, believed to have been the oldest of such a type.

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