Anthropologist to Discuss Alcohol’s Relationship to Evolution in UA Lecture

Dr. Patrick McGovern
Dr. Patrick McGovern


Dr. Patrick McGovern, an anthropologist, is starting off the new year with some cheer as he presents a lecture on the history of alcohol and its relationship to evolution Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m. in the Biology Building Auditorium, room 127, on The University of Alabama campus.

The lecture is part of the 2014-2015 Alabama’s Lecture on Life’s Evolution, or ALLELE, series at UA and is free and open to the public.

McGovern’s lecture, “Uncorking the Past: Fermentation as Earth’s Earliest Energy System and Humankind’s First Biotechnology,” will focus on alcohol’s centrality in human and animal life, its presence as the first energy source, and humans’ history of incorporating alcohol into every aspect of life.

“Fermentation is probably the first biotechnology developed by humans,” McGovern said.

McGovern will discuss the historical importance of fermented beverages and look at the different sugars humans used across time for fermentation. Using molecular archaeology, he will discuss the discovery of ancient beverages, including the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world, dated to approximately 7000 B.C.

“Molecular archaeology is the only way to uncover the marvelous inventiveness of our prehistoric ancestors in discovering fermented foods, beverages and other products,” McGovern said.

McGovern holds a doctorate in archaeology and is the scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia. He is also an adjunct professor of anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. He has published numerous books and articles on his research.

Dr. Christopher Lynn, chair of the ALLELE lecture series and an assistant professor of anthropology at UA, said he hopes McGovern’s lecture will appeal not only to people on campus, but also to people in the community.

“We think it would be fun for people to have a lecture on beer and spirits,” Lynn said. “We want to reach the entire community, to be a town-and-gown program.”

Lynn said the ALLELE committee invited McGovern because his work encompassed a different aspect of evolution. The program, he said, serves to educate people about evolution and its presence in history and modern life.

“It gets people to start thinking about how complex the things we do are,” Lynn said. “We want students to get the tools to be constructive cultural critics.”

The ALLELE series brings speakers to the UA campus to discuss aspects of evolution. The 2014-2015 ALLELE series is supported by UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, the Alabama Museum of Natural History and UA’s departments of anthropology, biological sciences, chemistry, communicative disorders, geological sciences, history, philosophy, physics and astronomy, religious studies and telecommunications and film. Learn more about the series at

The ALLELE lecture series is part of UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships and Goldwater Scholarships.