A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences says that our human ancestors first gained the ability to consume alcohol roughly 10 million years ago. That’s when genetic changes made it possible for our primate forebearers to properly digest ethanol, that silly psychoactive substance we call alcohol.
But just because their furry little bodies could process alcohol, that doesn’t mean they made the stuff. Outside of occasionally foraging on fermented fruit, our monkey-fathers were teetotalers up until about 10 thousand years ago, when they started to brew spirits.
So basically, they wasted what could have been 9,990,000 years of productive alcohol making. Imagine the craft beers they could’ve come up with, festooned with lovely cave drawing labels. Wooly Mammoth Maibock. Tree Dweller IPA. A hunter/gatherer collaboration brew, featuring rendered free range tapir fat and responsibly sourced wild wheat. The hipster cavemen in their skinny furs would have loved that!
But instead we scampered around the freshly formed savannahs eating termites and drinking fetid water while trying to avoid being eaten by sabre-toothed tigers. And we think we’re so smart.
The study’s lead author was Matthew Carrigan, a paleogeneticist from Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida. His team searched humans’ genetic lineage looking for a digestive enzyme called ADH4 (short for Class IV alcohol dehydrogenases), which allows the body to break down alcohol and turn it into regrettable decision making.