We don’t usually think of Stone Age people to be particularly refined, but archaeologists have discovered that the fine art of winemaking likely began in that period of time.
What might have been a wine jug [Photo by udyta Olszewski/PA]
ine has been around in several places around the world for thousands of years. It’s likely that winemaking has been around for at least 8,000 years, as suggested by recent archaeological findings in a valley south of Tbilisi, Georgia. The people that once lived in the Neolithic village of Gadachrili Gora in this valley were found to have loved grapes. So much so, apparently, that archaeologists found pieces of pottery bearing decorations in the image of the fruit. Researchers also found evidence that the hills around the village once teemed with grapevines.
So were these people just big fans of grapes? Probably, both in the fruit’s solid and fermented liquid form. A new study now claims that the people in Gadachrili Gora were the earliest known winemakers in the world.
Excavations in the Neolithic town of Gadachrili Gora. [Photo by Stephen Batiuk]
Archaeological excavations of overlapping circular houses in Gadachrili Gora have revealed that winemaking took place in the village about 8,000 years ago, hundreds of years earlier than previously thought. The team of archaeologists found shards of broken pottery in the houses, and these were sent to the lab for testing.
Patrick McGovern, one of the study’s researchers, reported finding tartaric acid on the the samples. Tartaric acid is a telltale sign that wine residue had been present on the pottery. This finding, combined with a high concentration of grape pollen in the soil, the grape decorations on the pottery, and radiocarbon dates from 5,800 B.C. to 6,000 B.C., all point to the conclusion that Gadachrili Gora was home to the earliest known winemakers in the world.
The village, nestled in the Caucasus Mountains, isn’t far from where the Neolithic Revolution took place. The Neolithic Revolution began in 10,000 BC in Anatolia, which is just a few hundred miles to the west of Gadachrili. During this time, humans learned and began to farm, settle down permanently, and raise crops and animals.
It took just a few thousand years after the Neolithic Revolution for the people of Gadachrili to learn how to ferment grapes and produce wine. And that’s not all. The people of Gadachrili also figured out how to domesticate--breed, improve, and harvest--the European grape.
Photo by Stephen Batiuk
Now, there are over 500 different grape varieties in Georgia. This indicates that its people have been cultivating the plant for a very long time.
Necessity may be the mother of invention, but the love of a nice buzz is the mother of a millennia-old art. “Wine fermentation isn’t a survival necessity,” said Patrick Hunt, an archaeologist at Stanford University. Thus, people in the Stone Age may have had more sophistication than we give them credit for.
If scientists can figure out which modern grape variety is the closest to the variety that the Neolithic occupants of Gadachrili used, they can plant a vineyard near the village using this grape variety. This can help researchers discover more than what they already know about the history of winemaking.
Get weekly science updates in your inbox!