Either the ancient Greeks loved grape juice, or they were making wine nearly 6,500 years ago, according to a new study that describes what could be the world’s earliest evidence of crushed grapes.
If the charred 2,460 grape seeds and 300 empty grape skins were used to make wine, as the researchers suspect, the remains might have belonged to the second oldest known grape wine in the world, edged out only by a residue-covered Iranian wine jug dating to the sixth millennium B.C.
Since the Greeks influenced the Romans, who in turn influenced virtually all of Europe, it is possible that a drink made in a humble, post-framed house in eastern Macedonia influenced much of the world’s wine.
"For the Neolithic or the Bronze Age, we have no evidence for markets and a market economy," lead author Tania Valamoti told Discovery News.
"Production was on a household or communal basis," added Valamoti, who is a lecturer in the Department of Archaeology at Greece’s Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
Valamoti and her team excavated four homes at a Neolithic site called Dikili Tash. After discovering the grape remains in one residence, they conducted charring experiments on fresh grapes, raisins and wine pressings to see what would best match the ancient seeds and skins. They determined the archaeological remains "morphologically resemble wine pressings and could not have originated from charred grapes or raisins."
Analysis of the grape remains determined they either were harvested from wild plants or originated from a very early cultivar.
Findings are published in the current journal Antiquities.
The scientists also found two-handled clay cups and jars, which they say suggest a use for decanting and consuming liquids. Charred figs were also found near the grape remnants. The presence of figs likely was not a coincidence, according to the researchers, who mentioned that juice from wild grapes often has a bitter taste.
"Figs could have been added to the grape juice prior to fermentation and the sugars contained in them would have entered the juice," explained Valamoti. "Or, they could have been added to the fermented product after completion of the fermentation process. Honey could be dealt with in the same way."
The world’s oldest wine, a 9,000-year old rice wine from China, also contained honey and fruits.
The ancient Greek grapes might change wine history, as experts previously theorized grape wine-making could have first spread throughout the Middle East.
Patrick McGovern, a senior research scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the world’s leading ancient wine experts, has pointed out that "the wild grape never grew in ancient Egypt," yet evidence for wine there dates back to at least 2,700 B.C. Red wine residue was even found in King Tut’s tomb.
He and his colleagues believe wine-making became established in Egypt due to "early Bronze Age trade between Egypt and Palestine, encompassing modern Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, and Jordan."
But since the Phoenicians and the Greeks largely controlled Egyptian trade during much of the Pharaonic period, because many such individuals had settled into the Delta, it is now possible that Greeks brought wine into Egypt and into numerous other places, through Greece’s extensive trade routes.
Valamoti and her colleagues hope further studies can be conducted on the Dikili Tash pottery, to determine whether tartaric acid, a component of grapes and wine, was present in the cups.