Origins of Mead: History Deep Dive

Origins of Mead - 20,000 B.C.

Mead is thought to have originated across several different continents prior to both agriculture and ceramic pottery (very very old). It's hard to pinpoint which exact group, but it's thought that mentions of 20,000 years or older in African bush tribes are the first mentions.

There's mention of mead made on the island of Crete in 8,000 B.C., an island in between Africa and what is now Greece.

The term "nectar of the gods" comes from the Greeks in reference to mead and "aphrodiasic" is also thought to have mead origins.

There's pottery vessels with evidence of mead dated back to northern China from at least 7,000 B.C.

There's reference to mead in Sanskrit Rig-Veda of Ancient India in 3,700 B.C.

Mentions of Mead Throughout History

  • Norse Mythology mentions mead in "Mead of Poetry" crafting mead from the blood of Kvasir (a wise being) that turns any drinker into a poet or a scholar.
  • The hymms of "Rigveda", a sacred book of the Vedic religion, mention "soma" (mead)
  • Mead was said to be the preferred drink of ancient Greece during the "Golden Age"
  • Aristotle mentioned mead made in Illiria in his Meteorologica (384–322 BCE)
  • Even Pliny the Elder called mead militites in his Naturalis Historia. Pliny even differentiated between wine sweetened with honey or "honey-wine" from mead (the first mead-head!)(23–79 CE)
  • In Beowulf, the Old English epic poem, the Danish warriors drank mead!

What is Mead?

Mead is the oldest alcohol known, it consists of fermenting honey water and yeast.

Mead long ago took its place atop the Oldest Alcoholic Beverage pedestal, but the jury’s still out on when and where it originated. Let’s groupthink.

Mead by Accident?

There’s a good chance that the nectar of the Gods was discovered by accident. Think about it – despite it’s subtle complexity in flavor, mead is one of the simplest alcoholic beverages to make. Water, honey, yeast. Throw in a few steps and boom.

You have mead.

So, who’s to say this didn’t happen naturally way back when? If honey became wet from rainwater and airborne yeast interacted with the substance, then the lucky Stone Age citizen who stuck his/her finger in the liquid might’ve gone home feeling…different.

Norse Mythology

There’s an ancient Norse legend that makes use of a magical drink known as poetic mead. The legend goes like this – the gods created a man named Norseman Kvasir. He was a bit of a savant, wiser than the wisest.

When he died, his blood mixed with honey. Whoever drank this honey-blood mead thereafter was imbued with Kvasir’s supreme wisdom.

Okay, okay, a little gross. BUT, an old tale from an old people. It might not pinpoint mead’s exact origin, but does emphasize its age.

Vying for Specificity

Is mead even older than Norse mythology? Historians debate.

It’s referenced in the ancient cultures of Greece, China, and Egypt. In fact, the ancient Greeks honored Bacchus as the God of Mead long before his initiation as the God of Wine. There’s also evidence to suggest some form of it was consumed in India circa 4000 years ago.

Meadmaster Mark Beran and Dr. Garth Cambray (founder of Makana Meadery in South Africa) take things a step further. They claim that mead can be traced back to the African bush, more than 20,000 years ago! How?

See again: accident.

With Africa’s disparate dry and rainy seasons, the hollows of trees would rot out. Bees would access these hollows during dry seasons via holes made from elephants tearing off branches. Then, when rainy season came around, the water would mix with honey. Add the natural yeast and mead was born.

Suffice it to say that honey wasn’t the only thing being gathered from these trees by local tribes of people!

Would you like to learn more about mead? Check out our articles on the Vikings & Mead, Honey Cocktails, and Types of Mead!