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Ancient Fermention

Ancient Fermention

January 11, 2011 |  by  |  Drinks and Tonics

Scientists have discovered the world’s oldest known winery, secreted amid dozens of prehistoric graves in a cavern in Armenia, an international research team said Tuesday.

A Prehistory of Wine

No one knows who first made wine or domesticated wild grapes, but vintners today produce about 6.6 billion gallons of wine every year. Recent archaeological discoveries suggest that the art of fermenting wine is a biotechnology breakthrough as old as civilization itself.

  • 9,000 years ago – World’s oldest known fermented beverage, a rice wine made with honey and fruit, from traces on pottery shards found in the village of Jiahu in northern China.
  • 7,400 years ago – Earliest chemical evidence of grape wine, unearthed at Hajii Firuz Tepe in the Zargos Mountains of Iran.
  • 6,500 years ago – Earliest evidence of mashed grapes in Greece and of wine production in Europe.
  • 6,100 years ago – Earliest known winery, found in Armenia, including a basin for squeezing, fermentation jars and the remains of crushed grapes, leaves and vines.
  • 5,100 years ago – Earliest evidence of medicinal wine in Egypt, from jars encrusted with wine residue found in tomb of Pharaoh Scorpion I.
  • 5,000 years ago – World’s oldest known wine press, found in the ruins of Vathypetro in Crete.
  • 4,000 years ago – Earliest documented mention of wine, in a Sumerian clay tablet that, in ancient cuneiform, recorded a receipt for jugs of wine.
  • 3,300 years ago – First evidence of white wine in Egypt, from traces in jugs found in the tomb of King Tutankhamen.
  • 3,000 years ago – Oldest known surviving sample of Chinese rice wine.
  • 2,200 years ago – Chinese grape wine first produced, when domesticated European grapes are introduced to Asia.
  • 1,686 years ago – Oldest known surviving bottle of wine, sealed in a glass amphora by ancient Romans and buried in a stone sarcophagus in Germany; unearthed in 1867, it is still sealed and on display.

Outside a mountain village still known for its wine-making skill, archaeologists unearthed a large vat set in a platform for treading grapes, along with the well-preserved remains of crushed grapes, seeds and vine leaves, dating to about 6,100 years ago—a thousand years older than other comparable finds.

On three pot shards, researchers from the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, found a residue of malvidin, a pigment that gives grapes and wine a dark red hue.

The ancient seeds belonged to a domesticated grape variety, known as Vitis vinifera vinifera, that is still used to make red wine today, the team reported.

“It looks like this cave complex was used during the Copper Age as a cemetery and a place of ritual,” said UCLA archaeologist Gregory Areshian, who was co-director of the excavation effort. “The production of wine could be related to those rituals.”

The find, funded by National Geographic and to be reported Tuesday in the Journal of Archaeological Science, is evidence that the quest for a decent red may be as old as civilization itself. The team involved archaeologists from the U.S., Armenia and Ireland’s University College Cork.

“For this time and period, it is a very surprising discovery of advanced large-scale wine production,” said biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern, of an authority on the origins of fermented beverages at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, who was not involved in the project.

Wall Street Journal Full Article

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