The oldest known building
The oldest known building is a place called Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. It’s a funny place because it didn’t have a proper roof or walls, and there’s no evidence at all that people ever lived there. Nor are there any traces of residential properties thereabouts.
This makes sense as Göbekli Tepe dates from about 10,000 BC, which is before humans settled down to agriculture. So the place appears to have been made by hunter-gatherers as a kind of temple. It’s a big place and the slabs of stone used to make it weighed up to 16 tons. So a lot of different tribes would have to have gathered there to put it all together.
There are some big stone tubs in Göbekli Tepe — the biggest held about 40 gallons — and they contain traces of a chemical called oxalate, which is formed when barley and water are mixed. When barley and water are mixed, beer quite naturally ferments. So it would appear that Göbekli Tepe was some sort of meeting place where the tribes gathered and drank beer together. It would be a pleasant place to get whiffled: top of a hill, nice view.
But it looks like there was beer, and, importantly, it looks like there was beer before there were temples and before there was farming. This leads to the great theory of human history: that we didn’t start farming because we wanted food — there was loads of that around. We started farming because we wanted booze.
This makes a lot more sense than you might think, for several reasons. First, beer is easier to make than bread as no hot oven is required. Second, beer contains vitamin B, which humans require if they’re going to be healthy and strong. Hunters get their vitamin B by eating other animals. On a diet of bread and no beer, grain farmers will all turn into anaemic weaklings and be killed by the big healthy hunters. But fermentation of wheat and barley produces vitamin B.
If beer was worth travelling for (which Göbekli Tepe suggests it was) and if beer was a religious drink (which Göbekli Tepe suggests it was), then even the most ardent huntsman might be persuaded to settle down and grow some good barley to brew it with. And so in about 9000 BC, we invented farming because we wanted to get drunk on a regular basis.