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Researchers find oldest known winery


January 12, 2011
By The Canadian Press

Topics

January
11, 2011 – The earliest known winery has been uncovered in a cave in the
mountains of Armenia.

January
11, 2011 – The earliest known winery has been uncovered in a cave in the
mountains of Armenia.

A
vat to press the grapes, fermentation jars and even a cup and drinking bowl
dating to about 6,000 years ago were discovered in the cave complex by an
international team of researchers.

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While
older evidence of wine drinking has been found, this is the earliest example of
complete wine production, according to Gregory Areshian of the University of
California, Los Angeles
, co-director of the excavation.

The
findings, announced recently by the National Geographic Society, are published
in the online edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“The
evidence argues convincingly for a wine-making facility,” said Patrick
McGovern, scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory at the
University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, who was not part of the
research team.

Such
large-scale wine production implies that the Eurasian grape had already been
domesticated, said McGovern, author of Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine,
Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverages
.

According
to the archeologists, inside the cave was a shallow basin about three feet
across that was positioned to drain into a deep vat.

The
basin could have served as a wine press where people stomped the grapes with
their feet, a method Areshian noted was traditional for centuries.

They
also found grape seeds, remains of pressed grapes and dozens of dried vines.
The seeds were from the same type of grapes – Vitis vinifera vinifera – still
used to make wine.

The
earliest comparable remains were found in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian king
Scorpion I, dating to around 5,100 years ago.

Because
the wine-making facility was found surrounded by graves, the researchers
suggest the wine may have been intended for ceremonial use.

That
made sense to McGovern, who noted that wine was the main beverage at funeral
feasts and was later used for tomb offerings.

Indeed,
he said, “Even in lowland regions like ancient Egypt where beer reigned
supreme, special wines from the Nile Delta were required as funerary offerings
and huge quantities of wine were consumed at major royal and religious
festivals.”

McGovern
noted that similar vats for treading on grapes and jars for storage have been
found around the Mediterranean area.

In
his books, McGovern has suggested that a “wine culture,” including the
domestication of the Eurasian grape, was first consolidated in the mountainous
regions around Armenia before moving to the south.