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Wine & Spirits

Oldest Wine in Europe Found at Prehistoric Greek Site

There are archaeological discoveries that while not a surprise, are still fascinating, such as recent reports about the oldest wine ever found in Europe. Joanna Gillian wrote in Ancient Origins that, “archaeologists undertaking excavations at the prehistoric settlement of Dikili Tash in northern Greece have completed analyses of wine samples from ancient ceramics revealing evidence of wine dating back to 4200 BC. These are believed to be the oldest known traces of wine in Europe!”

Dikili Tash is 1.2 miles from Philippi in Greece’s Macedonia region. It is a ‘tell’, a large man-made mound of earth rising about 50 feet above the surrounding ground and has been inhabited since 6500 BC. 

Gillian notes that the tell is “the result of millennia of human building and rebuilding in the same place. Archaeological deposits in the tell extend below the current ground surface, for a total of 55 feet of human occupation. Dikili Tash has been known as an important Neolithic site for over a century, but it was only during recent rounds of excavations at the site that the lowest levels (Early and Middle Neolithic) were identified.”

Because little is known about the people who lived at Dikili Tash, the finding will fuel a debate over whether societal changes were influenced by the consumption of alcohol.

“One example of evidence for wine consumption at Dikili Tash comes in the form of thousands of grape pips and grape marc in the remains of just one house at the site,” Gillian writes, and notes that “according to The Archaeology News Network, ‘the new wine was being prepared in a large jar inside the house, while the juice together with the marc were being fermented.’ But then a fire broke out sometime around 4300 BC, destroying the house but preserving the archaeobotanical remains for more than 6,000 years.”

"The find is highly significant for European prehistory, because it is for the moment the oldest indication for vinification in Europe," said Dimitra Malamidou, co-director of excavations in 2013, who added that, “the historical meaning of our discovery is important for Aegean and European prehistory, as it gives evidence of early developments of the agricultural and diet practices, affecting social processes."

Maria Valamoti, a professor of Prehistoric Archaeology, director of the Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Research in ArchaeologyEDAE and the PlantCult Laboratory at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Innovation of the AUTH, said, “Thanks to the work done at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTH), this data, often neglected by research, provides a wealth of information on the social and economic organization in northern Greece, the daily activities of people, their farming and agricultural practices, as well as specific symbolic activities from the 7th to the 1st millennium BC.”

Gillian says that, “it is believed that the wine traces in Dikili Tash represent the oldest known traces of wine drinking in Europe. Other studies have unearthed a 6,100-year-old Armenian winery and a 6,000-year-old wine sample from Sicily. Beyond Europe, scientists have also found traces of a 9,000-year-old Chinese alcohol made from rice, honey, and fruit.”

The wine at Dikili Tash was one of the topics recently discussed at an event titled, ‘The research work at the Department of History and Archaeology of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki,’ where the discovery of 4,000-year-old oatmeal which was found in Mesimeriani Toumba (Trilofo) in Thessaloniki, was also discussed.

The research findings were made possible thanks to the PlantCult program which studies archaeobotany across Europe. Researchers at AUTH as well as other Greek universities and other institutions in Europe study ancient plant remains, kitchen utensils, and grinding tools then combine this information with ethnographic, experimental, and literary research.

Material from Ancient Origins was used in this article.

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