Did our Stone Age ancestors ever sit snobbishly around a jug of wine and digress on its buttery character, its acidity level, its low tannins? Well, it's possible.
Archaeologists at the University of Toronto have uncovered 8,000-year-old Neolithic pottery shards from a site in the nation of Georgia with evidence that they once held the world's oldest known wine, according to a press release. It's a discovery that pushes back the date of the first modern-style viticulture by up to 1,000 years, and further establishes Caucasia as the birthplace of wine production.
“We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine,” said Stephen Batiuk, co-author on the study.
The Eurasian grapevine, Vitis vinifera, that the ancient wine was produced from also happens to be the species from which nearly all kinds of modern wine originate, further corroborating the significance of the discovery.
“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,” explained Batiuk. ”The Eurasian gravepine that now accounts for 99.9 per cent of wine made in the world today, has its roots in Caucasia.”
Researchers believe that this Stone Age wine probably would have been recognizable to us today; it was produced using similar methods. The finding also reminds us that we weren't so different from our ancient ancestors, especially considering the fact that wine is hardly a necessity for survival. Neolithic Eurasians likely produced it because the drink was enjoyable. It's certainly possible that wine added a degree of aesthetic sophistication to their culture in the same way that wine-drinking does for us today.
“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.”
He added: “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.”
The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.