Iron Age Honey Mead

Written by Kevin M. Cullen (Archaeologist: Discovery World: Milwaukee WI)

The recipe that we chose to brew for this special program was an Iron Age honey mead, found in a bronze cauldron at the foot of a Celtic chieftain who was buried in a central burial chamber, beneath an earthen mound near the village of Hochdorf in southwestern Germany. Excavations led by Dr. Jörg Biel in 1978-79 revealed that this elite male was buried around 550 BCE. To discover an intact burial chamber from this period was a rarity, as most were looted over the centuries. Included in the burial was a wagon with nine bronze plates and three bronze serving platters. Nine large gold decorated drinking horns, likely aurochs horns. Eight of them could hold 1 liter of liquid, yet the largest horn which hung above the chieftain’s head could hold a 10 pint (5 liter) capacity (that’s a “power drinker”). Additionally, a very large Greek-imported bronze cauldron with a capacity of 70 gallons (ca. 265 liters) was placed at the chieftain’s feet. Upon analysis of the desiccated remains, it was determined to have once been mead (honey wine). Such a volume of mead was quite an extravagance and very expensive to obtain, particularly considering the Celts did not have formalized apiculture.

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