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World’s Oldest Winery Discovered by Archaeologists

Posted: Wednesday, 12 January 2011 10:10

World’s Oldest Winery Discovered by Archaeologists

Life on the planet was recently reported in the media to be 3 billion years old but wine production is only around 6100 years old, according to an archaeological find reporting discovery of the remains of the world’s oldest known winery along with the grapes suggesting it produced red wine, near the Iranian Border. The announcement was made by the National Geographic Society and published online by the Journal of Archaeological Science yesterday.

The world’s oldest winery was discovered near a cemetery in one of the cave complexes in Armenia, named as Areni-1 where a wine press, fermentation jar (about 60 liter capacity) and a drinking cup made of animal horn dating to approximately 6100 years ago, were found by international team of archeologists from the US, Armenia and Ireland, led by UCLA archaeologist Hans Barnard. The site is outside a small village known for its winemaking capabilities even today.

"We believe the wine was made there for ritual activity," Dr. Gregory Areshian from Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California Lost Angeles, one of the directors of the excavation site says reportedly.  He also feels that the people living outside the cave in the region possibly made wine regularly, based on the evidence of the expertise needed to craft the vats and wine pots.

Archaeologists have found evidence of winemaking throughout the early ages, but the 4,100 BC carbon dating and botanical analysis at the site appears to be the oldest so far, Areshian adds. The team found chemical evidence of a grape-colouring compound, along with the preserved grape remains and dried vines. A layer of ancient sheep dung above the wine press site preserved much of the grape material from decay. Surprisingly, the caves have not been looted or touched during all these centuries.

Dr. Areshian, who is really impressed by the way the grape remains have been preserved, says that the scientists are undertaking a very extensive DNA analysis of the grape seeds from the cave now and that his team of botanists wants to plant some of the seeds.

The history of grape wine can be traced to the Middle East through Egyptian tomb paintings and an ancient Epic of Babylon, purported to be the oldest known work of literature. The Book of Genesis of the Bible also mentions Noah as the first person who planted a vineyard and made wine.

The earliest chemical evidence of grape wine, dating to about 7,400 years ago, was found on pots unearthed in Iran. Through extensive gene-mapping, heritage of more than 110 modern grape cultivars were analyzed about 5 years ago by scientists who narrowed down their origin to a region in Georgia, adjacent to present-day Armenia.

‘I see it as the earliest winemaking facility that’s ever been found,’ concurs Patrick McGovern, a bio-molecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, which is not involved in the project. “It shows a fairly large-scale operation, and it fits very well with the evidence that we already have about the tradition of making wine,’ he says. ‘For this time and period, it is a very surprising discovery of advanced large-scale wine production,’ says this authority on the origins of fermented beverages.

The ancient grape seeds belonged to a domesticated grape variety, known as Vitis. The discovery suggests that the quest for a decent red wine might be as old as civilization itself.


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