Archaeologists have discovered traces of ancient Egyptian wine, which, at 5,000 years old, is some very vintage vino. While exploring the tomb of a First Dynasty queen, the team unearthed hundreds of wine jars dating back to 3000 BCE, which contained remnants of wine. The findings also shed some light on the life and status of the mysterious monarch, about whom very little is known.
A vast quantity of grave goods, including the wine jars, was found in the tomb of Queen Meret-Neith in the Umm al-Qa'āb necropolis in Abydos. The area is home to several royal tombs, primarily from the Early Dynastic Period, including the pharaoh Narmer, who is generally credited with unifying Upper and Lower Egypt and founding the First Dynasty (c. 3,000 BCE).
Meret-Neith is the only woman with her own tomb in the royal cemetery at Abydos, meaning she was likely the most powerful woman of the period; however, her true identity and role have remained a mystery. The discovery of extensive grave goods in her tomb helps cement her historical significance, as does the discovery of inscriptions testifying she was in charge of central government offices, including the treasury.
These findings fuel speculation she may have been the first female pharaoh in ancient Egypt and therefore the predecessor of the later Queen Hatshepsut from the 18th Dynasty.
A number of the wine jars she was buried with were incredibly well preserved, some even still sealed in their original state, complete with the remains of primeval plonk and, in some cases, preserved grape seeds.
Elsewhere in the tomb complex were the tombs of 41 courtiers and servants. The team revealed that these, as well as Meret-Neith’s burial chamber, were built of unbaked mud bricks, clay, and wood in several phases over a long period of time. This, they say, challenges preconceived ideas about First Dynasty funerary practices – namely the use of ritual human sacrifice, which is often assumed but has not been proven.
It is hoped the excavation might reveal further information about the queen’s life, as well as this period of history. The findings could also teach us about early winemaking.
"The discovery of sealed, intact wine jars at Abydos, along with well-preserved grape pips, has the potential to significantly build our understanding of some of the earliest wine production, use and trade in the ancient Mediterranean and North Africa," Emlyn Dodd, a lecturer at the Institute of Classical Studies, who was not involved in the work, told Newsweek.
"Analysis of the residues left inside the jars, for example, could illuminate the chemical composition of the wine that was once inside, revealing its flavor profile and any additive ingredients that were used.”
In other very old wine news, the world’s oldest bottle (a measly 1,700 years old) may actually be safe to drink. Although just because you could doesn’t mean you should – we can’t imagine it tasting great after nearly two millennia bottled up.