We’ve been drinking wine thousands of years longer than we thought
Posted on November 14, 2017
- The oldest evidence of wine-making has been discovered outside of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.
- Nearly 8,000-year-old earthenware jars contained the residual chemicals of wine and were decorated with images of grapes and a dancing man.
- These artifacts suggest humans were making and drinking wine at least 500 years earlier than previously thought.
Scientists on Monday announced the discovery of the oldest-known evidence of wine-making. 8000 thousand year old jars at two separate sites (that’s 8000 thousand year old pi**heads we’re talking) had chemical signs of a fermented alcoholic beverage made from grapes about 30 miles south of Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi. In amongst the mud-brick houses atop a small rise known as the Gadachrili Gora pottery adorned with grapes were further proof of their adoration for making and drinking alcohol. From analysis of the site scientists concluded pollen from the wooded hillsides nearby were once likely plentiful, rich with grapevines. Further samples were found at Shulaveri Gora, another Stone Age village site a mile or so from Gadachrili that was partially excavated in the 1960s.
The earliest known evidence for wine-making had previously came from pottery in the Zagroos Moutains in northwestern Iran with an estimated date of between 5000 to 5400 BC. These findings show that this occurred much earlier than had previously been known
“Alcohol had an important role in societies in the past just as today,” said Stephen Batiuk, an archaeologist at the University of Toronto who was one of the researchers in the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“Wine is central to civilization as we know it in the West,” Batiuk added. “As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance, and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopoeias, cuisines, economies, and society in the ancient Near East.”
David Lordkipanidze, the director of the Georgian National Museum who helped lead the research, said the large jars, called qvevri, were similar to those still used today for wine-making in Georgia.
The researchers performed biochemical analyses to find residual wine compounds the pottery had absorbed. Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania, found evidence of tartaric acid, an indication of brewing involving the Eurasian grape, as well as three associated organic acids: malic, succinic, and citric.
The villagers harvested wheat; raised sheep, goat, and cattle; and used simple tools made of bone and volcanic glass called obsidian.
The grayish jars, some decorated with simple images of grape clusters and a man dancing, were roughly 32 inches tall and 16 inches wide. Evidence of wine was spotted in eight jars, the oldest from about 5980 BC.
“The wine was probably made similarly to the traditional qvevri method in Georgia today, where the grapes are crushed and the fruit, stems, and seeds are all fermented together,” Batiuk said.
They were pouring it into smaller jugs and transporting it to the villages where it was ready to drink,” says University of Toronto archaeologist Stephen Batiuk. In the years after they would use resin or herbs just as winemakers would today using sulfites but there was no evidence to suggest they had discovered the helpful benefits of using them. So it’s suggested they may very well have produced and consumed the wine before it had a chance to turn.
“They’re working out horticultural methods, how you transplant it, how you produce it,” McGovern says. “It shows just how inventive the human species is.”