FIVE THINGS ABOUT VERY OLD WINE

National Post (National Edition) - - NEWS -

1 GE­OR­GIA WINE

Cana­dian arche­ol­o­gists from are among a team of re­searchers who say they’ve un­earthed the ear­li­est ev­i­dence of wine­mak­ing in the world, dat­ing the prac­tice back hun­dreds of years ear­lier than pre­vi­ously be­lieved. The dis­cov­ery, re­ported in a study pub­lished Mon­day in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Nat­u­ral Academy of Sci­ences, was made in the South Cau­ca­sus re­gion in Ge­or­gia, on the bor­der of east­ern Europe and western Asia.

2 6,000 BC

Pre­vi­ously, the ear­li­est known chem­i­cal ev­i­dence of wine made from grapes was dated to 5,400 to 5,000 BC in Iran, but the arche­ol­o­gists say they can now trace the prac­tice to about 6,000 BC in sites about 50 kilo­me­tres south of the Ge­or­gian cap­i­tal of Tbil­isi.

3 POT­TERY JARS

The ex­ca­va­tions were con­ducted by a team from the Univer­sity of Toronto and the Ge­or­gian Na­tional Mu­seum as part of a larger re­search project in­ves­ti­gat­ing the emer­gence of vini­cul­ture in the re­gion. Re­searchers an­a­lyzed pot­tery jars that dated to the early Ne­olithic pe­riod. An­cient Ge­or­gians could have stored 300 litres of wine in the jars, which are about three feet tall. Small clay bumps are clus­tered around the rim. These dec­o­ra­tions, the re­searchers hy­poth­e­size, rep­re­sent grapes.

4 NO MORE BATHS

The new in­sights came from a break in tra­di­tion. It is com­mon prac­tice for arche­ol­o­gists to clean an­cient pot­tery with a gen­tle bath of a mild acid or base. The cor­ro­sives re­veal de­tails in the pot­tery of­ten hid­den be­neath a crust of ac­cu­mu­lated min­er­als. But these baths also erase any traces of or­ganic com­pounds. In the lat­est ex­ca­va­tion, the arche­ol­o­gists skipped the chem­i­cal scrub. This al­lowed re­searchers to ex­tract four or­ganic com­pounds: cit­ric acid, malic acid, suc­cinic acid and tar­taric acid. Taken to­gether, the rel­a­tively high con­cen­tra­tions of these acids point to wine.

5 SMALL VIL­LAGE VINTNERS

“What this shows is that (wine­mak­ing) was done in small scale in lit­tle vil­lages and in the Ne­olithic pe­riod — and it’s a pe­riod when we’re ex­per­i­ment­ing with agri­cul­ture,” said Stephen Batiuk, a se­nior re­search as­so­ciate at the Univer­sity of Toronto’s Ar­chae­ol­ogy Cen­tre, who co-au­thored the study. The ab­sence of charred grape seeds, com­monly found at an­cient wine­mak­ing sites, re­main a mys­tery though, the study says. It also means they are un­able to de­ter­mine the va­ri­ety of grapes used.

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