I've long considered the moderate consumption of alcohol to be a useful, if not essential, adjunct to civilized life. According to this Der Spiegel article, however, booze may have been, if not the mother, at least the midwife of civilization. Among the interesting recent anthropological discoveries: beer may have been invented in what is now Iran, where having a tipple today can get you a flogging.
Note the comment by reader "hxie", who observes that "[i]n the days before mechanised agriculture in Europe beer supplied a large proportion of the sustenance required for physical labour during the harvest."
Thanks to Michael Simmons for the tip: I owe you a beer the next time you're in New York (or I'm in L.A.).