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Earliest evidence of winemaking found in Georgia

China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-15 07:15

MIAMI - The world's earliest evidence of grape winemaking has been detected in 8,000-year-old pottery jars unearthed in Georgia, making the tradition almost 1,000 years older than previously thought, researchers said on Monday.

Before, the oldest chemical evidence of wine in the Near East dated to 5,400-5,000 BC (about 7,000 years ago) and was from the Zagros Mountains of Iran, said the report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a peer-reviewed US journal.

The world's very first wine is thought to have been made from rice in China around 9,000 years ago.

"We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine," said co-author Stephen Batiuk, a senior research associate at the University of Toronto.

Earliest evidence of winemaking found in Georgia

Scientists on the team came from the United States, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Israel and Georgia. They have been working for the past four years to re-analyze archaeological sites that were found decades ago.

The fragments of ceramic casks, some decorated with grape motifs and able to hold up to 300 liters, were found at two archaeological sites called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, about 50 kilometers south of the Georgian capital Tbilisi.

Researchers used a combination of the latest mass spectrometry and chromatography techniques to identify the ancient compounds.

This chemical analysis "confirmed tartaric acid, the fingerprint compound for grape and wine", said the PNAS report.

Researchers also found three associated organic acids - malic, succinic and citric - in the residue from the eight jars.

This "discovery dates the origin of the practice to the Neolithic period around 6,000 BC, pushing it back 600-1,000 years from the previously accepted date," according to the study.

'Social lubricant'

The Neolithic period began around 15,200 BC in parts of the Middle East and ended between 4,500 and 2,000 BC.

During this era, the latter part of which coincided with the Stone Age, people were beginning to farm, domesticate animals, make polished stone tools, crafts and weaving, researchers said.

"Pottery, which was ideal for processing, serving and storing fermented beverages, was invented in this period together with many advances in art, technology and cuisine," Batiuk said.

"As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance, and highly-valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopeias, cuisines, economics and society throughout the ancient Near East," he said.

People in Georgia cultivated the Eurasian grapevine, Vitis vinifera, which likely grew abundantly under environmental conditions similar to modern-day France and Italy.

"The Eurasian grapevine that now accounts for 99.9 percent of wine made in the world today, has its roots in Caucasia," Batiuk said.

Agence France-presse

(China Daily 11/15/2017 page12)

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