• 02:44
  • 21.09.2018
We’ve been getting boozy for 8000 years
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20.09.2018

We’ve been getting boozy for 8000 years

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Talk about vintage wine: Pieces of broken pottery found in the nation of Georgia provide the earliest known evidence for the origins of today’s winemaking industry.
The eight shards, recovered from two sites about 50km south of Tbilisi, are roughly 8000 years old.
That’s some 600 to 1000 years older than the previous record, revealed by a wine jar found in nearby Iran.
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HISTORY UNCORKED
“Alcohol had an important role in societies in the past just as today,” says study author and University of Toronto archaeologist Stephen Batiuk.
“Wine is central to civilisation as we know it in the west,” Batiuk added. “As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopoeias, cuisines, economies and society in the ancient Near East.”
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This is not the oldest sign of winemaking; other evidence shows that a beverage that mixed grape wine with rice beer and other ingredients was produced as long as 9000 years ago in China.
But the Chinese drink used a wild grape that has apparently never been domesticated, while the Georgian wine used a Eurasian grape species that did undergo domestication and led to the vast majority of wine consumed today, said researcher Patrick McGovern.
Evidence of more traditional wine cultivation comes from pottery from the Zagros Mountains in northwestern Iran dating to 5400-5000 BC.
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LINGERING AFTERTASTE
It’s not clear whether the Neolithic Georgian vintners were using a domesticated form, but it’s possible because they apparently made lots of wine, he said.
The pottery was found at two Neolithic villages, once home to perhaps 60 people each, consisting of small mud brick houses.
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The new analysis showed the shards had absorbed the main chemical fingerprint of wine — tartaric acid — as well as malic, succinic and citric acids. There was also traces of grape pollen, starch — and remains of Neolithic fruit flies.
Not enough DNA remains to tell for certain whether or not the wine was a red or white.
But researchers say the residue appeared yellowish — suggesting it was a white.
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CRACKING A BOTTLE
The pot shards had come from jars that were probably used for fermentation and storage.
David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum who helped lead the research, said large jars called qvevri similar to the ancient ones are still used today for winemaking in Georgia.
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“The wine was probably made similarly to the traditional qvevri method in Georgia today, where the grapes are crushed and the fruit, stems and seeds are all fermented together,” Batiuk said.
The nation continues to produce wine and considers it part of the national identity.
“It is very interesting that during this 8000 years there was no interruption of winemaking tradition,” said Shalva Khetsuriani, head of the Sommelier Association of Georgia. Elaborate toasts involving wine have long been an important part of the region’s rituals.
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The finding is “very significant” because it gives new evidence that the origins of winemaking should be sought in the region, said Gregory Areshian, an archaeology professor at the American University of Armenia who did not participate in the work.

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