|14 January 2011
The origins of wine?
A team of scientists has discovered in a cave in Armenia, what is reputedly the earliest evidence of wine production. The scientific team is lead by UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) in collaboration with Armenian and Irish archaeologists.
The discovery of an ancient grape seed was first made in 2007 and this inspired the recent excavations. A shallow basin (approximately 100 cm x 120 cm) made of pressed clay was found. It had a thick rim and was located adjacent to a large vat. The speculation was that the basin was used to crush grapes (grape seeds and pressed grape remains having been found near the basin) and the resultant liquid poured into the vat. There was no evidence of any means of pressing the grapes so it is believed that they must have been crushed by being stomped on with feet, in much the same way as can still be seen all around the Mediterranean.
The absence of the remains of seeds of any other fruit or berry lends further evidence to the theory of wine making, couples with the fact that, without the aid of refrigeration, the only way to preserve the resultant grape juice would have been to ferment it. Radiocarbon analysis of the seeds and other artifacts has placed the find at 4,100 BCE.
But this is not the only evidence which points towards wine making. The presence of tartaric acid, tree resins and malvidin also confirm the first assumptions. Whilst there are other uses for tree resin and tartaric acid (not related to wine making), malvidin has fewer options, the main one being that this plant pigment gives the rich red colour to wine and is notably responsible for its staining properties.
UCLA's Hans Barnard believes that the find is significant. "Deliberate fermentation of carbohydrates into alcohol has been suggested as a possible factor that prompted the domestication of wild plants and the development of ceramic technology." This particular cave (Areni - 1) is also notable as the site of the discovery of the oldest known leather sandal (approximately 3,500 BCE) which we reported on in June of last year.
Edited from UCLA Newsroom, National Georgraphic News (10 January 2011), Deutsche Welle (11 January 2011)
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