Pro uso non pro ubuso (to use not to misuse)

This can be seen as an entry-level post, a drop cap, regarding prehistoric and ancient wine and wine making. Next year the EWBC will be held in Turkey and as a introduction, foremost to myself, for this I will read up on the history of wine. With antique wine in this text I mean wine and wine making from the period often referred to as classical, i.e. Ca 3000 BC to Ca 500 AD. I will mainly keep to the period before Christ’s birth. But as you can see, further along in this text, the back date will ain’t that definitive.

However lets in historical times, in Stockholm, Sweden, in the 1700s when Carl Michael Bellman (1740-1795) composed and sung this tribute to wine:

Come Bacchus, teach me to read in thine

wet book!

May thee redden my nose, and brighten my

old yoke!

Teach me to bear in mind, the inconstancy of

our time!

Into my throat, pour thee the best juice

I know

(perhaps not the best of translations, but it’ll have to be good enough)

In this stanza he mixes ancient ideals from the classical period – that seems to an be eternal truth regarding wine – that it pleases both mind and soul but might also lead to the path of demoralisation and damnation.

There are plenty of ancient quotations relating to wine that gives us clues to ancient wine and wine making; such as Cicero (106-43BC) “People are like wine. The bad turns sour as they get old and the good becomes better and better with age.” This quote tells us among other things that they stored wines already 2000 years ago and that they had different qualities of wines, probably made from different grapes. This is far from the oldest written mentioning of wine, in Homer’s Iliad, Ca 700 BC, it is stated “The weary find new strength in generous wine” and Alcaeus (Ca 600 BC) “Wine is a peep-hole on a man“. The last quote and this by Hippocrates; “Wine is something divine, in a wonderful way suitable for us humans, provided that it’s used meaningfully and moderate” -tells us that drunkenness is obviously nothing a modern phenomenon.

When we discuss ancient wine it can be good define what is wine and especially what do we mean with prehistoric wine? What is described as wine in the archaeological records and what did they mean by wine in ancient times?

From ancient times, we have written sources, these snapshots allows us to get glimpses into how the ancient man made wine, who drank it and when, and in some cases also why or in what situations. However, they are snapshots and tells just one story or rather parts of a one story. They don’t tell, for example, how the workers or servants who made the wine had it – were they allowed to drink? And what were they allowed to drink and when? Usually there are no tasting notes, no references to grape variety or reference to regions etc.- this forces us to guess or turn to other materials for answers. Now we come to archaeology- the knowledge of prehistoric debris and waste. Our clues are artefacts or parts of artefacts, prehistoric images and ornaments and remains such as terrace’s and building remnants that can be analysed in different ways but also soil samples, pollen analysis, trace element analysis, analysis of pottery and what may be on or in the ceramics surfaces. Using these results and various social and philosophical models, where the questions are based on humanity and the relationship between people and the artefacts and or remains,make conclusions and build theories. This is something I will return to in future posts.

When and where was the first wine made? Earlier this year it was reported the that the world’s oldest winery had been found; a wine press, and fermentation jars and residue of pressed and dried grapes. These were dated to Ca 4000 BC and found in a cave in the south Caucasus, in south eastern Armenia. The grapes are Vitis vinifera vinifera – the same used today. Other early examples of findings that indicate early wine production has been found in Egyptian tombs, dated to around 3100 BC. That the Armenian find is not the first place were they made wine can be seen by other finds, such as in Hajji Firuz, in Iran, where traces of Neolithic wine has been found in five clay vessels, dated to Ca 5400-5000 BC. By analyse the inside of the ceramics they found traces of what has been interpreted as wine.

What then is wine? In the Henan province in China at the Jiahu site finds of clay vessels dated to the period around 7000-6600 BC shows traces of something that might be described as wine. The analysis shows it to have contained an alcoholic fermented beverage,made from rice, honey, fruit,wild grapes (the oldest find?) and hawthorn. Is this wine? Where do we draw the line for what we call wine? It is difficult to draw a line – or evan if we should draw one. I look at these “first” wines as a separate group from which different drinking traditions came. Then again we come to the question what did they call it then – well we’ll never get an answer to that question, but we can discuss we ancient man meant by wine, when it’s written – is it all alcoholic beverages, is it grape wine, does it include fruit or berry wine etc. etc?

Truth is I don’t have the answers, but there are at least some answers to be found – though i guess they will open up for new ones – I’ll get back to you on that.

Magnus Reuterdahl

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