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World's oldest wine found at Stone Age sites in Georgia

World's oldest wine found at Stone Age sites in Georgia
From CBC - November 14, 2017

Scientists say the oldest evidence of winemaking to date has been found at an archeological site in Georgia from the end of the Stone Age.

Residues found in six jars at two ancient village sites dating back to between 5400 to 5000 BC show the chemical signature of wine, reports a team led by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, the Georgian National Museum, and the University of Toronto.

That makes it 600 to 1,000 years older than evidence of winemaking found in the Zagros Mountains of Iran that had previously been the oldest. (Although evidence of a "grog" made of fermented grapes, hawthorne berries, honey and rice beer has been found in Jiahu, China, from as far back as 7000 BC.)

The new discovery is exciting for a lot of reasons, says Stephen Batiuk, a senior research associate in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and the Archeology Centre at the University of Toronto.

"If you are talking to a wine enthusiast, they love the idea we can push the history of this beverage so far. Us archeologists, we are interestedin the human element of it," he told CBC News in an interview.

Batiuk noted that agriculture first started in northern Iraq, northern Syria and southern Turkey, and needed to adapt to different environmental conditions when it spread to places like Georgia, Turkey's northern neighbour.

"To see how we humans adapted and what new products we developed is actually kind of a fun and fascinating thing. And the fact that it was wine and alcohol I think it says about a lot about human nature."

Ancient villages

Scientists had previously found possible evidence of wine residues at a site called Shulaveris Gora, located about 50 kilometres south of the Georgian capital of Tbilisi.

Batiuk, who had previously studied the spread of wine culture across western Asia and the Middle East, was invited to work with the Georgian National Museum to look for further evidence at both that site and a nearby site called Gadachrili Gora.

During the last part of the Stone Age, known as the Neolithic, those sites were villages of densely packed circular mud-brick homes, each about one to five metres in diameter, interspersed with pits and courtyards. The villages would have been nested in a forested river valley partially surrounded hills and, further away, the snow-capped Caucasus mountains.

Each was spread over an area about the size of an international soccer field and was home to less than 100 people, Batiuk estimates.

'I believe I was dancing like a little stick figure under the vines.' Stephen Batiuk, University of Toronto

They would have grown wheat to make bread. They likely also grew fruit and nut trees. They raised sheep, goats and cattle for meat and milk, and fished in the local stream.

Not a red

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