Archeologists from the United States, Egypt, and Armenia have unearthed an ancient wine-making facility in the cave complex Areni-1, located near a southern Armenian village. It’s the same complex where the oldest known leather shoe, dated to 3,500 B.C., was discovered.
A chemical analysis paper, published online in the Journal of Archeological Science, has confirmed the unearthed unit to be a complete wine production site. The unit comprises a raised pressing-platform made of packed clay, which is slanting toward a large jar. The researchers also found other large storage and fermentation jars. Preserved remains of grapes, grape seeds, and some vines with the fruit skin intact were found near the press.
“This is, so far, the oldest relatively complete wine production facility, with its press, fermentation vats, and storage jars in situ,” lead author Hans Barnard said in a press release. Barnard is an archeologist from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Cotsen Institute.
The artifacts were unearthed from the central gallery of the cave complex and date back to 4100 B.C., the Late Copper Age (Chalcolithic Period), as estimated after carbon-dating.
"For the first time, we have a complete archaeological picture of wine production dating back 6,100 years,” Gregory Areshian, co-director of the excavation and assistant director of UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, said in the press release.
A team of paleobotanists from three different institutions analyzed the preserved grape seed remains and confirmed the variety as Vitis vinifera vinifera, the same grape variety that’s still widely used in wine making, the press release mentions.
A chemical analysis done by the UCLA team confirmed the presence of malvidin, an anthocyanin pigment responsible for the characteristic red color of pomegranates and grapes, in two samples of the artifacts.
The presence of malvidin in the ceramic samples of this excavated installation, along with preserved remains of grapes found around the area, confirms that the design and layout of the site “strongly resembles historical grape pressing installation” where wine was produced, the researchers wrote in their paper.