Published On: Tue, Nov 14th, 2017

Even 8,000 years ago, a meal without wine was like a day without sunshine

Enlarge (credit: New York State)

PIiny the Elder knew that truth comes out in it. Aeschylus called it the mirror of the mind. Robert Louis Stevenson said it was bottled poetry. Mark Twain compared the books of great geniuses to it. It is no wonder that wine—which perfectly complements food, inhibits inhibitions, and alters perceptions—has been inseparable from civilization from time immemorial. But when, exactly, “immemorial” started is still being investigated.

The absolute earliest confirmation of grape wine production, at about 7000 BCE, actually comes from China. But wine production started in the Near East. Canaanites brought it to Egypt by 3000 BCE, and from there it eventually swept through Europe. The earliest evidence of Neolithic Near Eastern wine had been from 5400-5000 BCE in the northwestern Zagros mountains of Iran. Now, new evidence pushes the start date about five hundred years back and a thousand kilometers north, to 6000-5800 BCE in the South Caucasus.

Back in the 1960s, a pottery sherd (not a typo—it’s the word archaeologists use for shards, for some reason) from a dig near Tbilisi tested positive for tartaric acid. That’s the principal biomarker for wine, as it’s not present in most fruits but is the most abundant acid in grapes. But in the 1960s it was standard practice to wash sherds in hydrochloric acid, and, anyway, this sherd was found on the surface, so who knows what it was exposed to in the environment. Point is, this was not the most reliable of artifacts.

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Ars Technica UK

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