Georgian Jars Hold 8000-Year-Old Winemaking Clues

The oldest bottles of wine in the world: Scientists discover 'mind-altering' 8000-year-old vintage tipple created and

The oldest bottles of wine in the world: Scientists discover 'mind-altering' 8000-year-old vintage tipple created and

Ceramic pottery fragments from two sites about 30 miles south of the Georgian capital Tbilisi contained residues that yielded chemical signatures of grapes and wine.

The finding is "very significant" because it gives new evidence that the origins of winemaking should be sought in the region, said Gregory Areshian, an archaeology professor at the American University of Armenia who did not participate in the work. Researchers now say the practice began hundreds of years earlier in the South Caucasus region on the border of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Until now, the oldest wine-making evidence had come from pottery from the Zagros Mountains in northwestern Iran dating to 5400-5000 BC.

In a paper published today in the journal PNAS, an global team of archaeologists has conclusively shown what all those grapes were for.

The excavated sites contained the remains of two Neolithic villages at Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora.

"We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine exclusively for the production of wine", study co-researcher Stephen Batiuk, a senior research associate in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and the Archaeology Centre at the University of Toronto, said in a statement.

"Wine is central to civilisation as we know it in the West".

While analyzing the chemical residue on shards from eight large jars, the scientists found tartaric acid, a fingerprint compound of grapes and wine.

It's not the oldest sign of winemaking; other evidence shows that a beverage that mixed grape wine with rice beer and other ingredients was produced as long as 9,000 years ago in China.

The Neolithic period is characterized by activities that include the beginning of farming, domesticating animals and developing crafts such as pottery and weaving, and the early evidence of winemaking demonstrates further "human ingenuity" at the time, Batiuk said.

Because they didn't find many grape seeds or stems preserved in the village's soil, archaeologists think the wine was made in the nearby hills, close to where the grapes were grown.

Combined with the grape decorations on the outside of the jars, ample grape pollen in the site's fine soil, and radiocarbon dates from 5,800 B.C.to 6,000 B.C., the chemical analysis indicates the people at Gadachrili Gora were the world's earliest winemakers. "The horticultural potential of the south Caucasus was bound to lead to the domestication of many new and different species, and innovative "secondary" products were bound to emerge". It grew under ideal environmental conditions in early Neolithic times, similar to premium wine-producing regions in Italy and southern France today.

"Our research suggests that one of the primary adaptations of the Neolithic way of life as it spread to Caucasia was viniculture", Batiuk said.

It's no surprise that once ancient farmers domesticated the grape, wine culture followed, Batiuk added.

For the Neolithic Georgians, the drinking and offering of wine would have permeated almost every aspect of life from medical practice to special celebrations, Dr Batiuk added.

'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, ' said Dr Batiuk.

"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", he said.

'The Eurasian grapevine that now accounts for 99.9 per cent of wine made in the world today, has its roots in Caucasia'.

The research was funded largely by the National Wine Agency of Georgia and the Shota Rustaveli National Science Foundation of Georgia.

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