Evidence of oldest wine in human history discovered

The oldest evidence ever found of wine made using grapes has been discovered in Georgia. Some 8,000 years old it confirms that mankind’s relationship with wine is several centuries older than previously thought.

On the left, a reconstructed example of the type of jar found at the sites. The extremely small base suggests the jar must have been supported in some way, possibly by partial burial, in order to remain upright when full. Right, three of the shards examined by the team and which led to the discovery of trace evidence of wine.

In a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of historians and scientists laid out the biomolecular archaeological and archaeobotanical evidence for the earliest wine yet discovered.

The lead author on the report was Dr Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania who has been the discoverer of numerous ancient wines and alcoholic concoctions, including the funerary wine of ‘King Midas’ (actually of his father King Gordius) and the, until today, oldest evidence of wine yet discovered; 7,000 year-old traces found in pottery from the Zagros Mountains of northern Iran.

The team analysed trace evidence preserved in clay jars recently unearthed in Neolithic villages in southern Georgia, not far from the modern capital Tblisi, at digs between 2012 and 2016.

Belonging to the ancient culture known as Shulaveri-Shomutepe, which existed from approximately 6,000 BC to 5,000 BC* and covered the modern countries of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, the jars would have been as big as 300 litres when first made and may have been (although this is just a theory) partially buried as Georgians still bury their qvevri today**.

Carbon dating of the pottery indicated the oldest one was from about 5,980 BC, possibly a little older.

The team analysed several shards found during excavations and found eight of them bore tell-tale signs of having once been in contact with wine largely due to the presence of tartaric acid (which occurs naturally in high quantities only in grapes) as well as malic, succinc and citric acids which showed evidence of the grapes having been fermented rather than just kept as grape juice.

The team also found evidence of grape pollen, starch and even the remains of ancient fruit flies that had once hovered around the liquid, however no pigments were found that would indicate whether the wine was red or white.

As mentioned above, this new discovery pushes back the evidence for winemaking by as much as 1,000 years as it is older than the trace elements discovered by McGovern in pottery dating to 5,400-5,000 BC at a Neolithic site in Iran called Hajji Firuz Tepe.

On the other hand, as the report’s authors pointed out, the Iranian wine had also contained elements of tree resin while the Georgian wine did not. As pine sap and other resins were once added to help preserve the wine, perhaps this is an innovation that came about in the intervening years.

For Georgians, who treat wine as one of their country and their culture’s most vital elements, it is a sign that their claim to Georgia being the “cradle of wine” has some validity.

Although Georgians have always claimed the crown, until now no concrete evidence of wine had ever been found in the country. The oldest wine trace was in Iran as mentioned and the oldest wine press (as well as the oldest human shoe), dating back some 6,000 years, were discovered in Armenia in 2011.

Neolithic pottery depicting clusters of grapes (see above) and the oldest grape pips ever discovered had always suggested that winemaking was happening in Georgia much further back than previously thought but now there is the evidence that proves it.

As the report concludes, however, there may be much, much more to find throughout the ‘fertile crescent’: “This ‘working hypothesis’, while buttressed by new archaeological, chemical archaeobotanical, and climatic/environmental data, is only a beginning. We may now have evidence that at least two SSC sites in Georgia, Shulaveris Gora and Gadachrili Gora, were making grape wine as much as a half millennium earlier than Hajji Firuz Tepe in Iran. However, many other regions of the Near East, especially the broad arc of mountainous terrain bordering the Fertile Crescent on its north, remain to be investigated and studied scientifically.”

Still, so far the oldest evidence of any alcoholic drink is from China, where a fermented beverage of rice, honey and fruit dated to 7,000 BC (so 9,000 years old) still holds the record for man’s first foray into booze.

For the full report click here.

 

*At a time when mankind was undergoing the “Neolithic Revolution” which included domestication of various fruits, cereals and legumes.

**These pots were not qvevri however. The oldest examples of qvevri do not appear until the Iron Age some 5,000 years after the Shulaveri-Shomutepe Culture and, so far, there is no evidence for the partial burial of large jars during the Neolithic or Copper and Bronze Ages while there is in Armenia and Iran.

2 Responses to “Evidence of oldest wine in human history discovered”

  1. Juan says:

    Very informative and interesting.

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