Wed, Nov 15, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Earliest evidence of winemaking found in Georgia

AFP, MIAMI

The world’s earliest evidence of grape winemaking has been detected in 8,000-year-old pottery jars unearthed in Georgia, making the tradition almost 1,000 years older than previously thought, researchers said on Monday.

Before, the oldest chemical evidence of wine in the Near East dated to between 5,400 and 5,000 BC (about 7,000 years ago) and was from the Zagros Mountains of Iran, the report said in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a peer-reviewed US journal.

The world’s very first wine is thought to have been made from rice in China about 9,000 years ago.

“We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine,” said coauthor Stephen Batiuk, a senior research associate at the University of Toronto.

Scientists on the team came from the US, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Israel and Georgia. They have been working for the past four years to reanalyze archeological sites that were found decades ago.

The fragments of ceramic casks, some decorated with grape motifs and able to hold up to 300 liters, were found at two archeological sites called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, about 50km south of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Researchers used a combination of the latest mass spectrometry and chromatography techniques to identify the ancient compounds.

This chemical analysis “confirmed tartaric acid, the fingerprint compound for grape and wine,” the PNAS report said.

Researchers also found three associated organic acids — malic, succinic and citric — in the residue from the eight jars.

This “discovery dates the origin of the practice to the Neolithic period around 6,000 BC, pushing it back 600 to 1,000 years from the previously accepted date,” the study said.

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

During this era, the latter part of which coincided with the Stone Age, people were beginning to farm, domesticate animals, make polished stone tools, crafts and weaving, researchers said.

“Pottery, which was ideal for processing, serving and storing fermented beverages, was invented in this period together with many advances in art, technology and cuisine,” Batiuk said. “As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopoeias, cuisines, economics and society throughout the ancient Near East.”

People in Georgia cultivated the Eurasian grapevine, Vitis vinifera, which likely grew abundantly under environmental conditions similar to modern-day France and Italy.

Batiuk said the domestication of the grape “eventually led to the emergence of a wine culture in the region.”

“The Eurasian grapevine that now accounts for 99.9 percent of wine made in the world today, has its roots in Caucasia,” he said.

However, this might not be the last word, according to lead author Patrick McGovern, scientific director of the biomolecular archeology project for cuisine, fermented beverages, and health at the Penn Museum in Philadelphia.

McGovern, who coauthored the 1996 Nature study that placed the earliest evidence for grape wine in Iran, said the search for the truly oldest artifacts will continue.

“Other sites in the South Caucasus in Armenia and Azerbaijan might eventually produce even earlier evidence for viniculture than Georgia,” McGovern said.

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