In order to effectively approach the vine history, it is necessary to go back to 60 million years ago, in the hot Eocene, which saw the appearance of the genus Vitis to which the domestic vine belongs. The subsequent events led the genus Vitis to be composed of more than 60 species; among them, Vitis vinifera sylvestris, wild ancestor of the domestic vine, established itself in Western Asia and in the Euro-Mediterranean area. Two and a half million years ago the ice ages of the Quaternary began and during those ages the grapevine, a thermophilous species, managed to survive in the coastal strip overlooking the Mediterranean and in sheltered areas located south of large mountain ranges (the Great Caucasus, the Alps, the Pyrenees). It is there that the human beings who first inhabited our territories during the last ice age came into contact with the vine, consuming their fruits, perhaps producing the first fermented beverages, ancestors of wine.
Eleven thousand years ago the last glaciation (Würm glaciation) ended and the mild phase began, known as the Holocene, which saw the birth of agriculture with domesticationof herbaceous plants even today essential for food safety (wheat, barley, rice, corn, sorghum and various legumes such as pea, chickpea, broad bean, etc.) that took place around 10-11 thousand years ago.
We know less about the vine and one of the questions that the researchers were asked is: how many millennia ago the first wine dates back to? Professor Patrick McGovern (scientific director of the biomolecular archeology project for cooking, fermented beverages and health of the Penn Museum in Philadelphia) dedicated a very original study to this problem. In 1996 he published a studyon Nature affirming that the traces of vinification found in jars discovered in HajjiFiruzTepe on Zagros mountains (Iran) dated back to 7000- 7400 years ago.
And here we come to the ongoing research, funded by Georgia Government, coordinated by the Georgian researcher David Maghradzee, which involved an international research team including researchers from USA, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Israel and Georgia. In particular, the Italian research group is made up of experts in viticulture and in the history of agriculture at the University of Milan (Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences) and the Lombardo Museum of Agriculture History of Sant'Angelo Lodigiano.
The research has investigated the traces of vinification in archaeological remains excavated in the sites of Shulaveris Gora and Gadachrili Gora dated to the Neolithic (about 8000 years ago). These sites, located about 50 kilometers south of the modern capital of Tbilisi, are located in the floodplain of the Kura River and belong to the so-called "Shulaveri-Shomutepe" (SSC) culture, known by archaeologists, which affects not only Georgia but also several sites of Azerbaijan and of the Armenian plateau.
The results of the research were published in an article of the authoritative international journal PNAS(Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences of America) and available at the website www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/11/07/1714728114.full.
In particular, the work highlights that:
- The first traces of vinification can be dated to 8000 years ago, moving the event of first vinification 600-1000 years back from previous discoveries.
- The climate of the investigated area was then fully suitable for the vine thanks to a climate change that led to a rainier and milder phase compared to the previous cold-arid phase. More specifically, paleoclimatic analyzes showed a climate that, due to thermal and pluviometric characteristics, was very similar to the current one.
- Finally, it is recalled that such ancestral events of vinificationcan be found in the myth of Dionysus and in the biblical story of Noé, who produces the first wine after the end of the flood (and Mount Ararat, where, according to tradition, the Arca would have run aground, is just 200 km far from the excavation area.
The Italian research group has contributed to the contextualisation of the presence of the vine in the archaeological survey area at a climatic and biological level. The group itself is now investigating the effects that climate variability has had in the phases following the first vinification event and up to the present day. These results will soon be the subject of a scientific publication currently being drafted.
MCGOVERN, P., JALABADZE, M., BATIUK, S., CALLAHAN, M. P., SMITH, K. E., HALL, G. R., KVAVADZE, E., MAGHRADZE, D., RUSISHVILI, N., BOUBY, L., FAILLA, O., COLA, G., MARIANI, L.,BOARETTO, E., BACILIERI, R., THIS, P., WALES, N.,LORDKIPANIDZE, D. (2017). Early Neolithic wine of Georgia in the South Caucasus. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201714728. doi:10.1073/pnas.1714728114
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