Researchers find winemaking artifacts

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. (Hans Barnard)

A UCLA-led team of scientists has confirmed the discovery of the oldest winemaking facility ever found. The facility dates back to roughly 4100 B.C., and included remnants of grapes, a rudimentary wine press, a clay fermentation vat, and even a cup and drinking bowl. The site was unearthed by a team of archeologists from Armenia, the United States and Ireland who were digging in a mysterious Armenian cave complex.

"For the first time, we have a complete archaeological picture of wine production dating back 6,100 years," said Gregory Areshian, co-director of the excavation and assistant director of UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology.

A chemical analysis of the discovery, which received support from the National Geographic Society, was presented in an article in the Journal of Archeological Science published January 11th.

Archaeologists found one shallow basin made of pressed clay measuring about 3 feet by 3-and-a-half feet. The basin appears to have served as a wine press, a design used up through the 19th century throughout the Mediterranean.

"People obviously were stomping the grapes with their feet, just the way it was done all over the Mediterranean and the way it was originally done in California," Areshian said.

Researchers believe they have an idea as to how the wine was used. Because the press and jugs were discovered among dozens of grave sites, the archaeologists believe the wine may have played a ceremonial role.

"This wine wasn't used to unwind at the end of the day," Areshian said.

The closest comparable collection of artifacts was found in an Egyptian tomb, and dated to 3150 B.C.