Archaeologists have unearthed some of the earliest evidence of winemaking in the world, dating back about 8,000 years. Excavations in the Republic of Georgia dug up shards of pottery from the Early Ceramic Neolithic period around 6000 BCE, which were found to contain the telltale chemical compounds of wine.

The digs took place at Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, two sites that are believed to be the remnants of ancient villages. Scientists from the University of Toronto and the Georgian National Museum recovered shards from eight large ceramic jars, before the residue inside them was analyzed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. The results revealed traces of tartaric acid – one of the key indicators of grapes and wine – as well as the presence of malic, succinic and citric acids, which are all associated with the brew.

"We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine," says Stephen Batiuk, co-author of the study. "The domesticated version of the fruit has more than 10,000 varieties of table and wine grapes worldwide. Georgia is home to over 500 varieties for wine alone, suggesting that grapes have been domesticated and cross-breeding in the region for a very long time."

The Neolithic period, which began around 15200 BCE and lasted as late as 2000 BCE, is best known as the time humans settled down and laid the roots for agriculture and certain crafts, such as pottery. According to the researchers, we might owe our modern wine culture to that specific combination of simultaneous advances.

"Pottery, which was ideal for processing, serving and storing fermented beverages, was invented in this period together with many advances in art, technology and cuisine," says Batiuk. "In essence, what we are examining is how the Neolithic package of agricultural activity, tool-making and crafts that developed further south in modern Iraq, Syria and Turkey adapted as it was introduced into different regions with different climate and plant life."

Although the researchers claim their find is the oldest evidence of winemaking in the world, the timeline isn't so clear-cut. It's about 2,000 years older than an Italian wine jar analyzed earlier this year, but isn't quite as vintage as some 9,000-year-old Chinese beverages.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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