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Sponsored by: Archaeological Institute of America
Attitudes about alcohol exhibit a striking degree of ambivalence. On one hand, drinking alcohol is a broadly accepted and very popular activity around the world. Indeed, alcohol is by far the most widely and abundantly consumed psychoactive agent. Current estimates place the number of active consumers at over 2.4 billion people worldwide (or roughly a third of the earth’s population). Yet, alcohol has also sometimes acquired a bad reputation as a dangerous substance and caused several mass panics. Some governments and religions have even tried to ban it altogether. Archaeological evidence shows that the human relationship with alcohol is by no means recent: the practice of drinking has a very deep antiquity on multiple continents and the biological adaptation that enables humans and a few close primates to metabolize alcohol goes back at least 10 to 12 million years. This lecture presents an anthropological framework for understanding the social and cultural significance of alcohol and examines the archaeological evidence for drinking in the past, with particular attention to the nature and consequences of the wine trade in the ancient Mediterranean.
Short bibliography and/or website on lecture topic:
Dietler, Michael. (2020). Alcohol as embodied material culture: anthropological reflections on the deep entanglement of humans and alcohol. In Alcohol and Humans: A Long and Social Affair, edited by Robin Dunbar and Kimberley Hockings, pp. 299-319. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dietler, Michael. (2006). Alcohol: anthropological/archaeological perspectives. Annual Review of Anthropology 35: 229-249.
Dietler, Michael. (2001). Theorizing the feast: rituals of consumption, commensal politics, and power in African contexts. In Feasts: Archaeological and Ethnographic Perspectives on Food, Politics, and Power, edited by Michael Dietler and Brian Hayden, pp. 65-114. Washington, DC: Smithsonian.
Dietler, Michael. (1994). Quenching Celtic thirst. Archaeology 47(3): 44-48.
Dietler, Michael. (1990). Driven by drink: the role of drinking in the political economy and the case of Early Iron Age France. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 9: 352-406.
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