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Humans have been drinking wine for at least 8000 years
14 November 2017, 03:24 | Silvia Roy
Humans have been drinking wine for at least 8000 years
The world's earliest evidence of grape wine-making has been detected in 8,000-year-old pottery jars unearthed in Georgia, making the tradition nearly 1,000 years older than previously thought, researchers said on November 13.
Excavations have focused on two Early Ceramic Neolithic sites (6000-4500 BC) called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, approximately 50 kilometres south of the modern capital of Tbilisi.
Before stumbling upon these ceramic jars, the oldest evidence related to the existence of wine came from today's Iran, in the Zagros Mountains. While numerous pieces were collected in recent excavations, two were collected in the 1960s; researchers have long suspected they might bear traces of wine.
The newest methods of chemical extraction confirmed tartaric acid, the fingerprint compound for grape and wine as well as three associated organic acids - malic, succinic and citric - in the residue recovered from eight large jars.
Stephen Batiuk, one of the lead authors of the study, concluded that this was the first evidence of winemaking among humans.
The findings suggest the sites were home to the earliest known vintners, besting the previous record held by the traces of Iranian wine found just 500km away and dated to 5,400-5,000 BC.
The excavations in Georgia were largely sponsored by the National Wine Agency of Georgia.
"The domesticated version of the fruit has more than 10,000 varieties of table and wine grapes worldwide", said Batiuk. "There's far greater sophistication even in the transitional Neolithic than we had any clue about".
The team of researchers hailed from the United States, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Israel, and Georgia.
Georgia, which has a long heritage of winemaking, is positioned at a crossroads between Western Asia and Eastern Europe, and the grape identified in jar fragments excavated from two Neolithic-era villages is Vitis vinifera - aka the "Eurasian grapevine", from which almost all kinds of modern wine originate. One of the most important crafts was pottery, which enabled the fermentation and storage of wine.
The Neolithic period was the time when humans started domesticating plants and animals, started farming and developed the techniques of pottery making and weaving. "Wine is central to civilization as we know it in the West".
"The horticultural potential of the south Caucasus was bound to lead to the domestication of many new and different species, and innovative "secondary" products were bound to emerge".
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While the team note that it is possible that the vessels were used to store something other than wine, such as the grapes themselves, they note that the shape of the vessels is suited to holding a liquid and that grapes or raisins would have degraded without a trace.
People in Georgia cultivated the Eurasian grapevine, Vitis vinifera, which likely grew abundantly under environmental conditions similar to modern-day France and Italy.
"Our research suggests that one of the primary adaptations of the Neolithic way of life as it spread to Caucasia was viniculture", said Batiuk. "The domestication of the grape apparently led eventually led to the emergence of a wine culture in the region".
As innovative as this early viticulture was, though, it wasn't the first time ancient humans mashed grapes into a fermented liquid and chose to drink it.
"We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine exclusively for the production of wine". "The Eurasian gravepine that now accounts for 99.9% of wine made in the world today, has its roots in Caucasia".
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