Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Winery in Armenia: Earliest Found So Far

"Earliest Known Winery Found in Armenian Cave"
James Owen, National Geographic News (January 10, 2010)

"As if making the oldest known leather shoe wasn't enough, a prehistoric people in what's now Armenia also built the world's oldest known winery, a new study says.

Undertaken at a burial site, their winemaking may have been dedicated to the dead—and it likely required the removal of any fancy footwear.

Near the village of Areni, in the same cave where a stunningly preserved, 5,500-year-old leather moccasin was recently found, archaeologists have unearthed a wine press for stomping grapes, fermentation and storage vessels, drinking cups, and withered grape vines, skins, and seeds, the study says.

"This is the earliest, most reliable evidence of wine production," said archaeologist Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

"For the first time, we have a complete archaeological picture of wine production dating back 6,100 years," he said. (Related: "First Wine? Archaeologist Traces Drink to Stone Age.")....

There's more backing up the conclusion that this site was a winery than really old vessels that look like they could have been used to make wine. Malvidin, a plant pigment that helps give red wine its color, was found in pottery shards there.

A researcher who wasn't involved in studying the Armenian site agrees that it looks like the place was a winery - and added that finding tartaric acid would help prove it. Tartaric acid is found in grapes.

That should be pretty conclusive for demonstrating that the folks used the facility for making grape wine. That's the sort we've been in the habit of making and drinking recently. But grapes aren't the only basis for wine. Which is another topic. ("Dandelions," Winemaking Home Page)

An Ancient Winery in Armenia: So What?

"Winemaking as Revolution

"The discovery is important, the study team says, because winemaking is seen as a significant social and technological innovation among prehistoric societies.

"Vine growing, for instance, heralded the emergence of new, sophisticated forms of agriculture, Areshian said.

" 'They had to learn and understand the cycles of growth of the plant,' he said. 'They had to understand how much water was needed, how to prevent fungi from damaging the harvest, and how to deal with flies that live on the grapes.

"'The site gives us a new insight into the earliest phase of horticulture—how they grew the first orchards and vineyards,' he added...."

The 'tartaric acid' fellow also said the relatively large size of the Armenian winery suggested that the folks using it had domesticated grapes - which would mean that that agriculture had been around for a while when the winery was built.

"Relatively large" is a - relative - term. The archeological site in Armenia was no Gallo winery, but it wasn't just a couple of pots, either.

"Old" is a relative term, too. Here in America, something that's avoided being torn down and replaced for fifty years may be considered "old." In Europe, there are buildings in use today that are five centuries old.

When this winery was built, Plato and Aristotle wouldn't be born for another five and a half millennia. (More about matters of scale: "A Sense of Scale and Science Fiction Writers," Drifting at the Edge of Time and Space)

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