Humans Have Been Making Wine For Far Longer Than Previously Thought

This is the base of a Neolithic jar being prepared for sampling for residue analysis. Judyta Olszewski

Some 8,000 years ago during the Neolithic Period, humans were making progress like never before – and it was thirsty work. A new find in the valleys of the south of Georgia suggests that humans have been brewing wine and boozing it up for far longer than we previously thought.

Archaeologists from the University of Toronto and the Georgian National Museum have uncovered the earliest evidence of winemaking yet, dating back around 8,000 years to 6,000 BCE. Until now, the oldest evidence of winemaking came from around 5,000 BCE in current-day Iran. That means humans were actually crafting wine 1,000 years earlier than previously believed.

The research was reported this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The discovery was at the site of two Neolithic villages, Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, in the south of Georgia. Archaeologists unearthed a bunch of ceramic jar pottery fragments and handed them over to scientists for chemical analysis.

Using the latest chemical extraction technology, the researchers discovered traces of malic acid, succinic acid, citric acid, and – most critically – tartaric acid, the key compound for identifying the presence of grapes and wine.

"The domesticated version of the fruit has more than 10,000 varieties of table and wine grapes worldwide," study co-author Stephen Batiuk, senior archaeologist at the University of Toronto, said in a statement. "Georgia is home to over 500 varieties for wine alone, suggesting that grapes have been domesticated and cross-breeding in the region for a very long time.”

The Neolithic Period began around 15,200 BCE in parts of the Middle East and ended between 4500 and 2000 BCE in other parts of the world. It was a profoundly revolutionary time where humans moved away from hunting and gathering towards agriculture and settlement, eventually laying the ground for Earth’s first great civilizations. It was also a great time for getting drunk on wine too, it seems.

"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," added Batiuk.

"The infinite range of flavors and aromas of today's 8,000-10,000 grape varieties are the end result of the domesticated Eurasian grapevine being transplanted and crossed with wild grapevines elsewhere over and over again," he said. "The Eurasian grapevine that now accounts for 99.9 percent of wine made in the world today, has its roots in Caucasia."

So, next time you enjoy a tipple of red or white, raise a glass to the boozy Neolithic people who lived in prehistoric Caucasia.

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