Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Oldest Wine Making Equipment Discovered

Scientists working in Armenia have confirmed the discovery of the oldest wine-making equipment ever found.

The group of archaeologists, including Ron Pinhasi, from University College Cork have been excavating the cave site in the Little Caucasus mountains near the Armenian border with Iran since 2007.

It is the same cave where, last June, Pinhasi announced the discovery of the world's oldest surviving shoe - a 5,500-year-old leather moccasin.

Gregory Areshian (UCLA), co-director of the excavation announced that "For the first time, we have a complete archaeological picture of wine production dating back 6,100 years".

The find was triggered when ancient grape seeds were discovered in the cave in 2007. Archaeologists subsequently found a 3 feet by 3.5 feet basin which they believe served as a wine press. It is estimated that the basin would have held around 56 litres of liquid.

While no evidence of any implement used to crush the grapes was found, this doesn't trouble Areshian: "People obviously were stomping the grapes with their feet, just the way it was done all over the Mediterranean and the way it was originally done in California".

The researchers found large quantities of grape seeds, pressed grapes, grape must and vines around the basin and paleobotanists were able to confirm that the species of grape used was Vitis vinifera - the same domesticated grape variety which is used to this day to produce wine.

6,100-year-old desiccated grape stems and dried, pressed grapes  found on and around the wine press (Photo Credits: G. Areshian) 

Up till now, the closet comparable collection of this type was made in an Egyptian tomb and dated to around 3,150 BC.

The scientists say the find is particularly important because of the level of confidence they can have that the site was used to produce wine. Radiocarbon dating of plant material, paleobotanical analysis of the fruit remains and the presence of the chemical malvidin all support the wine-making theory. Malvidin, a deep red molecule which gives grapes and wine their red colour is "highly reliable evidence of wine" according to Areshian.

However, the wine isn't thought to have been used for recreational purposes, or as Areshian says: "This wine wasn't used to unwind at the end of the day". The wine press was found in close proximity to dozens of grave sites and the wine is thought to have played a ceremonial role.


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