Georgian Jars Hold 8,000-Year-Old Winemaking Clues : The Salt Scientists have found evidence of ancient winemaking in Georgia, a country which prides itself on its vino. It's the earliest trace of viniculture using wild grapes similar to those used today.
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Georgian Jars Hold 8,000-Year-Old Winemaking Clues

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Georgian Jars Hold 8,000-Year-Old Winemaking Clues

Georgian Jars Hold 8,000-Year-Old Winemaking Clues

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Scientists have unearthed evidence that Stone Age humans were making wine. They found those clues in 8,000-year-old pottery buried in what's today the country of Georgia. NPR's Dan Charles reports.

DAN CHARLES, BYLINE: Anthropologist Patrick McGovern at the University of Pennsylvania has been pursuing the origins of wine for many years. And the search took him to mountainous areas east of the Black Sea.

PATRICK MCGOVERN: Everything pointed to that region as the area to investigate.

CHARLES: The ancestors of today's wine grapes grew wild there, and wine became part of the culture.

MCGOVERN: Christianity, Judaism and even Islam - you know, they all have wine incorporated into them and that goes back very early.

CHARLES: McGovern joined forces with David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum.

DAVID LORDKIPANIDZE: Wine was always our identity.

CHARLES: Lordkipanidze says Georgians are proud of their tradition of wine making. And to back up that pride with scientific evidence, he invited a team of scientists from all over the world to examine two very old archaeological sites. The scientists, including Patrick McGovern, analyzed pottery from those sites and found traces of substances like tartaric acid that are the chemical fingerprint of grapes.

MCGOVERN: If we see the tartaric acid, then that shows that we have a wine or a grape product.

CHARLES: The oldest of these jars came from 8,000 years ago. It's the earliest artifact ever found showing humans consuming juice from the Eurasian grapes that are the foundation of today's wine industry. One ancient jar, McGovern says, has a design on it that seems like a celebration of wine.

MCGOVERN: People underneath a trellis grapevine, dancing.

CHARLES: McGovern says one moment from this investigation sticks with him. It was after he spent a day at the museum in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, studying this jar.

MCGOVERN: And then I come home at night. And I have my glass of wine in one hand, and I'm looking out at this public building. And there is essentially the same scene right across the street from me.

CHARLES: On a building, that same motif - people dancing under grapevines, bringing together past and present. Georgia still has a big wine industry. David Lordkipanidze says this discovery is an opportunity for his country's wine.

LORDKIPANIDZE: To show this is not only old, but it's also good.

CHARLES: The research appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Dan Charles, NPR News.

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