This undated handout photo provided by National Geographic shows a wine press, behind which an archaeological identification kit is placed, In Armenia. The vat, right of the press, apparently used for accumulating grape juice and the consequent wine fermentation, emerges clearly here as a result of the excavation. The earliest known wine-making equipment has been uncovered by in a cave in the mountains of Armenia. A vat to press the grapes, fermentation jars and even a cup and drinking bowl dating to about 6,000 years ago were discovered in the Areni-1 cave complex by an international team of researchers. (AP Photo/Gregory Areshian, National Geographic)
The Associated Press reports:
WASHINGTON — The earliest known winery has been uncovered in a cave in the mountains of Armenia.
A vat to press the grapes, fermentation jars and even a cup and drinking bowl dating to about 6,000 years ago were discovered in the cave complex by an international team of researchers.
While older evidence of wine drinking has been found, this is the earliest example of complete wine production, according to Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles, co-director of the excavation.
The findings, announced Tuesday by the National Geographic Society, are published in the online edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.
Visiting the excavations of the Areni-1 cave complex in Armenia, archaeologist Levon Petrosyan contemplates the 6,100-year-old wine-making equipment discovered by an international project co-directed by Boris Gasparyan, Gregory Areshian and Ron Pinhasi. Petrosyan's left foot points toward the wine press designed to drain into a vat, which had not been excavated when this photograph was made. While crumbled today, the edge of the wine press would have kept grape juice from spilling over the sides of the press, archaeologists believe. Photo: Hans Barnard/National Geographic
The wine press (center, with vat slightly to the right), dating to roughly 4100 B.C., was found in the cave among tombs and jars containing dried fruit. This photograph was made when the excavation was in progress. Photo: Kristine Martiposyan-Olshansky/National Geographic
The wine press (center) is more evident in this later photograph of the excavation, behind which an archaeological identification kit is placed. The vat (right of the press), apparently used for accumulating grape juice and the consequent wine fermentation, emerges clearly here as a result of the excavation. Photo: Gregory Areshian/National Geographic
A range of 6,100-year-old desiccated grape stems and dried pressed grapes was found on and around the wine press in the Armenian cave. The chemical studies were led by UCLA scientists and supported by the National Geographic Society, which also funded the archaeological work. Photo: Gregory Areshian/National Geographic
A flashlight illuminates the inside of the vat into which the wine press drained. On the inner surface of the vat below its rim, UCLA chemists found evidence of the plant pigment malvidin, the substance that makes wine stains so difficult to remove from fabric today. The bottom of the vat also is covered with dark gray organic residues. Photo: Gregory Areshian/National Geographic
"The evidence argues convincingly for a wine-making facility," said Patrick McGovern, scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, who was not part of the research team.
Such large-scale wine production implies that the Eurasian grape had already been domesticated, said McGovern, author of "Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer and Other Alcoholic Beverages."
The same Armenian area was the site of the discovery of the oldest known leather shoe, dated to about 5,500 years ago. That discovery at the area known as Areni-1 was reported last summer.
According to the archeologists, inside the cave was a shallow basin about 3 feet across that was positioned to drain into a deep vat.
The basin could have served as a wine press where people stomped the grapes with their feet, a method Areshian noted was traditional for centuries.
They also found grape seeds, remains of pressed grapes and dozens of dried vines. The seeds were from the same type of grapes – Vitis vinifera vinifera – still used to make wine.
The earliest comparable remains were found in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian king Scorpion I, dating to around 5,100 years ago.
Because the wine-making facility was found surrounded by graves, the researchers suggest the wine may have been intended for ceremonial use.
That made sense to McGovern, who noted that wine was the main beverage at funeral feasts and was later used for tomb offerings.
Indeed, he said, "Even in lowland regions like ancient Egypt where beer reigned supreme, special wines from the Nile Delta were required as funerary offerings and huge quantities of wine were consumed at major royal and religious festivals."
McGovern noted that similar vats for treading on grapes and jars for storage have been found around the Mediterranean area.
In his books, McGovern has suggested that a "wine culture," including the domestication of the Eurasian grape, was first consolidated in the mountainous regions around Armenia before moving to the south.