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8 December 2004
Evidence of Neolithic wine found in China

The first wine may have been made in China during the Neolithic period, according to scientists from the University of Pennsylvania.
    A study published in the science journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) looked at pottery jars from the village of Jiahu in Henan province, northern China, dating back to 7000 BCE. This is considerably older than the previous oldest evidence of fermented drinks, which was found at Hajji Firuz Tepe in Iran and dated to 5400 BCE.
    Tests on the pottery shards revealed traces of a fermented beverage made from rice, honey, and either grapes or hawthorne fruit.
    Dr Patrick McGovern, a molecular archaeologist at the university's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, said "This evidence appears to suggest that the Chinese developed fermented beverages even earlier than the Middle East, or perhaps at the same time. Maybe there were some indirect ties between the Middle east and Central Asia at that time in ancient civilization."
    Jiahu, in the Yellow River Basin, is famous for its cultural and artistic relics, and discoveries there have included ancient houses, kilns, turquoise carvings, stone tools and flutes made from bone, thought to be the earliest examples of musical instruments ever found.
    In addition to the wine from Jiahu, Dr McGovern tested samples of a younger wine from hermetically-sealed bronze vessels found in Shang Dynasty burial tombs, also from the Yellow River Basin, which was found to be 3,000 years old. A thin layer of rust had sealed these bronze jars, preserving the liquid within.
    The colourless liquid gave off a floral aroma similar to nail polish remover or varnish, and was found to be flavoured with herbs and flowers or tree resins. The jars were placed in the tombs of high-ranking member of society to accompany them to the afterlife. One of the jars contained traces of wormwood, suggesting it may have contained an early form of absinthe.

Source: MSNBC / Nature.com / Reuters / Science Daily (7 December 2004)

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