Archaeological study unearths evidence of 2,500-year-old vintage





A chemical analysis of archaeological remains in the south of France has unearthed evidence that suggests wine was being produced there as early as the fifth century BC.

A team of biomolecular archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia have been assessing items from one of the best-preserved Iron Age sites in France, located 125 kilometres west of Marseille in the ancient coastal town of Lattara.

By analysing residues inside Etruscan (a civilization of ancient Italy in the area corresponding to Tuscany, western Umbria, and northern Latium) and Massaliote (ancient Marseille also known as Massilia) amphorae, which are large ceramic containers used for storage, the archaeologists found strong evidence that they once contained wine.

Tartaric acid, which occurs in grapes, and preservatives such as rosemary and basil, which may have been added to the wine for medicinal purposes, were retrieved from the amphorae following excavations in Lattara’s merchant quarters. Grape seeds and skins were also found scattered amongst the remains.

“It’s the earliest evidence we have of winemaking by the Gauls,” Patrick McGovern, the leader of the study told Nature.com. “The combination of botanical and chemical evidence makes a pretty tight argument.”

In addition to the containers, a large limestone platform from 425-400BC, also carried the aforementioned residues. Initially archaeologists believed this was because it was used for pressing olives however recent evidence suggests that it was a grape press used for making wine.

An archaeologist at the University of Chicago, Michael Dietler, believes the presence of pitch, which was used to coat the jars found at Lattera in order to help seal the ceramic, “adds another line of evidence” to the argument that wine was perpetually shipped across the Mediterranean during this period.

Winemaking is believed to have originated in the Middle East more than 8,000 years ago, where it subsequently spread, via Egypt, to Crete by 2200BC. A thousand years later Greek and Phoenician merchants had begun shipping wine throughout the Mediterranean region in amphorae. By 600BC, the Etruscans were believed to be trading wine along the French Mediterranean coast, whilst at the same time the Greeks had established a colony at Massalia.
 
Main image: Amphorae by oatsy40 
 

Written by: Ben Moss

Ben Moss 

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