Earliest known evidence of winemaking found

Henrietta Strickland
November 14, 2017

They say wine improves with age, and if that's true, the discovery is truly sublime - and pushes back the world's earliest evidence of modern-style viticulture by up to 1,000 years, trumping earlier finds in the Zagros Mountains of Iran dating to around 5400-5000 BCE.

Scientists say that wine jars, dating back to 6000BC, have been unearthed in the villages of Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, about 50km South of Tbilisi.

The sites offered a glimpse into a neolithic culture characterised by circular mud-brick homes, tools made of stone and bone and the farming of cattle, pigs, wheat and barley.

"Wine is central to civilization as we know it".

Researchers were particularly intrigued by fired clay pots found in the region - likely to be some of the earliest pottery made in the Near East.

(A) Representative early Neolithic jar from Khramis Didi-Gora. "If we see the tartaric acid, that shows that we have wine or a grape product", McGovern says. It grew under ideal environmental conditions in early Neolithic times, similar to premium wine-producing regions in Italy and southern France today. "6,000-5,800 BC", McGovern and colleagues wrote in their study.

From their combination of archaeological, chemical, botanical, climatic, and radiocarbon data, the researchers were able to conclude that the Eurasian grapevine Vitis vinifera was very abundant around the village excavation sites.

The team then used a variety of analytical techniques to explore whether the soil or the inner surface of the vessels held signs of molecules of the correct mass, or with the right chemical signatures, to be evidence of wine.

The researchers, including Patrick McGovern, analyzed pottery from those sites and found traces of substances, like tartaric acid, that are the chemical fingerprint of grapes. The team also identified the presence of three other acids linked to grapes and wine.

Georgia, which has a long heritage of winemaking, is positioned at a crossroads between Western Asia and Eastern Europe, and the grape identified in jar fragments excavated from two Neolithic-era villages is Vitis vinifera - aka the "Eurasian grapevine", from which almost all kinds of modern wine originate. Moreover, there are none of the telltale signs that the pots were used for syrup-making, while grape juice would have fermented within a matter of days.

The Neolithic period began around 15,200 BC in parts of the Middle East and ended between 4,500 and 2,000 BC.

Excavations in the Republic of Georgia by the Gadachrili Gora Regional Archaeological Project Expedition (GRAPE), a joint undertaking between the University of Toronto (U of T) and the Georgian National Museum, have uncovered evidence of the earliest winemaking anywhere in the world.

"The infinite range of flavours and aromas of today's 8,000-10,000 grape varieties are the end result of the domesticated Eurasian grapevine being transplanted and crossed with wild grapevines elsewhere over and over again", says archaeologist Stephen Batiuk from the University of Toronto.

It's fantastic to think that 8,000 years ago the world's earliest winemakers were producing something very similar to the wine we consume today - and what's even more startling is it hints we probably had lots more in common with these ancient ancestors too. "They have been saying for years that they have a very long history of winemaking and so we're really cementing that position".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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