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Toastmasters: Wine-making existed at least 500 years earlier than previously known

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ACCORDING to the ancient Greeks, wine was first discovered by Dionysus, and proved so popular that he was rewarded with godhood. The ancient Persians credit it to a woman who had been banished from the presence of the legendary King Jamshid. Despondent, she wandered into a warehouse where she found a jar containing the remains of some spoiled grapes. Thinking this was as good a method of suicide as any, she drank the liquid. The effect was not quite what she had expected.

For archaeologists, as opposed to mythmakers, untangling the history of wine is particularly hard, partly because the product is perishable and partly because the technique is simple enough to have been invented independently by early settlers in different parts of the world. It did not help that, until recently, archaeologists would wash any ancient pottery they unearthed in hydrochloric acid to strip off any accumulated gunk, which also removed any organic compounds that might have given a clue about what was once stored in the pots.

Fortunately, bits of wine-stained pottery still turn up. As reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds at two sites have pushed the origins of large-scale winemaking back to 6,000 BC, half a millennium or more before the previous date. A team of researchers led by Patrick McGovern from the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology analysed wine residue on pieces of clay jars found in the Caucasus mountains in Georgia. Dr McGovern’s work had previously pointed to Iran as the oldest known site.

Dr McGovern and his colleagues discovered traces of four acids—tartaric, malic, succinic and citric—which are found in grape wine. To rule out the possibility of contamination, perhaps from an ancient spillage, they also analysed the soil from which the fragments were excavated. It contained far lower levels of the chemicals. They even cross-checked their findings with climate models, which suggested that climatic conditions at the time the jars were made were ideal for viticulture.

The team’s findings are not quite the earliest evidence of alcoholic drink. Traces of a concoction made from wild grapes, hawthorn fruit, rice beer and honey mead were found in 2003 on pottery from China that dates to around 7,000 BC. But archaeologists think that the drink was probably made in small quantities, since the grapes used were from wild vines, which yield far less fruit than the domesticated sort.

By contrast, the jars found in Georgia suggest winemaking on a serious scale. Each pot held more than 300 litres, enough for 400 modern bottles. Such quantities would have required vineyards and methods of cloning and transplanting similar to those used today. And the Georgian grapes came from Vitis vinifera, the only grapevine species known to have been domesticated. All of the 8,000-10,000 grape varieties grown today originated from it.

The record may not hold for long. Dr McGovern and his colleagues are currently examining pre-Neolithic ruins at the headwaters of the Tigris river in Turkey dating back as far as 9,500 BC. Both China and Georgia may soon have to give way to an even older contender for the invention of vinous bliss.

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Julio Marchi ©

Publisher / Editor at BS News & Media Services
A free thinker, not labelled as anything, not associated with any party, not part of any group or engaged with any religion... A simple guy tired of the nowadays bullshit who decided to promote more serious debates about what is really happening hoping to bring back intelligence to the superficial and shallow news & headlines that unfortunately took over the existing media scene.
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