ACADEMIC: WORLD’S OLDEST EVIDENCE OF GRAPE WINE IS IN CHINA DATES BACK 9000 YRS
By Siulan Law Mathews DipWSET
Credit: Professor Peter Kupfer/Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
The oldest archaeological evidence of the use of grapes to make a fermented drink comes from central China and dates back some 9,000 years, according to Sinologist Professor Peter Kupfer of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz.
In an article titled “China's viticulture in transition: Wine culture going back thousands of years lays the foundation for emerging modern wine industry in the Middle Kingdom”, Kupfer said the archaeological site of a Neolithic settlement in Jiahu in China’s central Henan province is home to the earliest evidence of using grapes to make fermented drinks, older than evidence found in Georgia which dates back some 8,000 years.
Most archaeologists considered Jiahu one of the earliest examples of Neolithic culture. They believed the site was settled around 7,000 BC and was later flooded and abandoned around 5,700 BC.
Archaeologists and scientists applied biomarker chemical analysis to pottery jars excavated from Jiahu and found signature molecules proving alcohol was fermented from rice, grapes, hawthorn and honey.
According to Kupfer, this “Neolithic cocktail” is currently thought to be the world’s oldest alcoholic drink, while viticulture began only a little later, about 8,000 years ago in Georgia.
“Alcohol and, in particular, wine made using grapes has been a fundamentally important part of cultural life in Eurasia for thousands of years. And China has played a key role in its history,” Kupfer wrote.
Although still unproven, Kupfer believed that there were probably links between the most ancient winemaking sites – between Georgia 8,000 years ago and Jiahu in central China some 9,000 years ago.
He added that for millions of years, China has been home to the world’s richest and most diverse range of species of the Vitis genus. During glacial periods, vines found a refuge in southern China, which is now home to over 40 Vitis species, 30 of which are indigenous.
Given the pre-eminence accorded to French wines, it is natural to assume that winemaking must have originated in ancient Greece or Rome.
Instead, Kupfer believed it has developed since the Neolithic Age over thousands of years in the context of continuous exchange between Eurasian regions, with Persia and India playing a particularly important role very early on.
Kupfer has undertaken several research trips along the Central Asian, Chinese, and Iranian sections of the Silk Road and has conducted a special study of Chinese wine culture.
His book “Amber Shine and Black Dragon Pearls: The History of Chinese Wine Culture” provides a comprehensive interdisciplinary analysis of the role played by wine and alcohol in Chinese culture.
(the writer can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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