Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Ancient Wine

Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture

Patrick E. McGovern
with a new foreword by Robert G. Mondavi
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 400
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Ancient Wine
    Book Description:

    The history of civilization is, in many ways, the history of wine. This book is the first comprehensive and up-to-date account of the earliest stages of vinicultural history and prehistory, which extends back into the Neolithic period and beyond. Elegantly written and richly illustrated,Ancient Wineopens up whole new chapters in the fascinating story of wine and the vine by drawing upon recent archaeological discoveries, molecular and DNA sleuthing, and the texts and art of long-forgotten peoples.

    Patrick McGovern takes us on a personal odyssey back to the beginnings of this consequential beverage when early hominids probably enjoyed a wild grape wine. We follow the course of human ingenuity in domesticating the Eurasian vine and learning how to make and preserve wine some 7,000 years ago. Early winemakers must have marveled at the seemingly miraculous process of fermentation. From success to success, viniculture stretched out its tentacles and entwined itself with one culture after another (whether Egyptian, Iranian, Israelite, or Greek) and laid the foundation for civilization itself. As medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance, and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopoeias, cuisines, economies, and society. As an evocative symbol of blood, it was used in temple ceremonies and occupies the heart of the Eucharist. Kings celebrated their victories with wine and made certain that they had plenty for the afterlife. (Among the colorful examples in the book is McGovern's famous chemical reconstruction of the funerary feast--and mixed beverage--of "King Midas.") Some peoples truly became "wine cultures."

    When we sip a glass of wine today, we recapitulate this dynamic history in which a single grape species was harnessed to yield an almost infinite range of tastes and bouquets.Ancient Wineis a book that wine lovers and archaeological sleuths alike will raise their glasses to.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4953-6
    Subjects: Archaeology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Robert G. Mondavi

    Ancient Winetells the dramatic and fascinating story of wine’s beginnings at the dawn of civilization some 8,000 years ago, confirming what I have long believed—that wine has been an essential part of the gracious way of life for ages, praised in many cultures by poet and scholar alike.

    Patrick McGovern takes us on a remarkable journey back to the first experiments in making this celebrated beverage in the earliest villages of the Middle East. Even before the rise of civilization, he envisions our hominid ancestors enjoying a “Paleolithic Beaujolais Nouveau.” As he travels forward in time, describing the...

    (pp. xix-xxi)
  6. Map
    (pp. xxii-xxiv)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Stone Age Wine
    (pp. 1-15)

    A single Eurasian grape species (Vitis viniferaL. subsp.sylvestris), among approximately 100 that grow wild in temperate zones of Asia, Europe, and North America, is the source of 99 percent of the world’s wine today (color plate 1). We may call the vine a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Gewürztraminer, or a Shiraz cultivar. We may be impressed by the varietal wines that are produced from the fruit of these vines, whether a dense red color, redolent of blackberries and cedar, or a flinty white with a hint of straw. The fact remains that we owe the seemingly infinite range of...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Noah Hypothesis
    (pp. 16-39)

    Hundreds, if not thousands, of years of experimentation in vine cultivation and winemaking technology were needed to achieve the level of sophistication displayed in the upland Neolithic settlements of the ancient Near East. The chemical evidence that Neolithic pottery vessels contained wine is marshaled in chapters 3 and 4. Other recent evidence from the fields of archaeology, genetics, ancient literary studies, paleobotany, and linguistics converge and point to the Neolithic period as the time when largescale winemaking began. The moniker Noah Hypothesis encapsulates the main thrust of the argument, still to be proved.

    Strictly speaking, the Noah Hypothesis refers to...

  9. CHAPTER 3 The Archaeological and Chemical Hunt for the Earliest Wine
    (pp. 40-63)

    An archaeological excavation will often yield a set of data that appear to be linked together by a particular human activity, but convincing evidence for that activity may or may not be present. When organic materials are directly involved—as they often are since human beings and much of what they surround themselves with are organic—a satisfactory solution to an archaeological puzzle will be all the more elusive, because of the ease with which most organic compounds degrade, dissolve, and disappear. On the other hand, if an organic compound that is highly specific to a given plant or animal...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Neolithic Wine!
    (pp. 64-84)

    After the 1991 wine conference at the Robert Mondavi Winery, I was on the lookout for any Neolithic wine specimens. And what was a better place to look than my own University of Pennsylvania Museum, which has one of the best collections of well-documented excavated artifacts in the world? As a member of the Hasanlu Project in northwestern Iran, Mary Voigt had directed an excavation at Hajji Firuz Tepe, a Neolithic site in the northern Zagros Mountains, southwest of Lake Urmia, in 1968. It was a simple matter to ask Mary, now a professor of anthropology at the College of...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Wine of the Earliest Pharaohs
    (pp. 85-106)

    The wild grape (Vitis vinifera sylvestris) never grew in ancient Egypt. Yet a royal winemaking industry was thriving there in the wide alluvial plains of the Nile River Delta by at least Dynasty 3 (ca. 2700 B.C.), the beginning of the Old Kingdom. Is it possible to know when the first domesticated grapevines were transplanted to Egypt and to discern the prehistorical backdrop of an industry that eventually spread over the entire Delta and to the large western oases? Answers to these intriguing questions have important implications for the emergence and consolidation of one of the earliest literate civilizations on...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Wine of Egypt’s Golden Age
    (pp. 107-147)

    In order to track subsequent developments in viniculture in Egypt, as well as throughout the Near East and in the Mediterranean world and Europe, my laboratory of Molecular Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania Museum has become a kind of repository of ancient wine samples, with well-aged vintages stretching back to 6000 B.C. and extending over a period of 8000 years, up to the present. Of course, there are many geographic gaps, and any vertical tastings (comparing vintages of different years), if it were allowable to add water to the ancient residues and reconstitute the wine, would need to leap...

  13. Color Plates
    (pp. None)
  14. CHAPTER 7 Wine of the World’s First Cities
    (pp. 148-166)

    On the other side of the Fertile Crescent from Egypt, civilization was also moving forward, and fermented beverages were near the top of the list of specialty items for royalty as well as the man or woman in the streets. As in Egypt, one’s options—whether grape wine, barley beer, or date wine, which had established itself as the overwhelming Mesopotamian favorite by the first millennium B.C.—vastly differed, depending upon socioeconomic status, historical precedent, and the relative difficulty and expense of growing the necessary plants in the lowlands.

    Wine and the domesticated Eurasian grapevine had already begun their odyssey...

  15. CHAPTER 8 Wine and the Great Empires of the Ancient Near East
    (pp. 167-209)

    Herodotus, the “father of history,” has a delightful account of his travels in Mesopotamia during the fifth century B.C. in book I (193–194) of hisHistory(Greek “inquiry”). Although anecdotal, highly impressionistic, and moralistic in places, his description of the wine trade from the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers to the gates of Babylon has the stamp of credibility. He describes how the Armenian wine merchants fashioned circular “shield”-shaped boats by stretching animal skins over willow frames. After cushioning their vessels with straw, they loaded up their cargo. Two men were assigned to each boat, one to...

  16. CHAPTER 9 The Holy Land’s Bounty
    (pp. 210-238)

    Sinuhe’s tale is a classic of ancient Egyptian literature, and it captures the essence of life in the hill country of Syria-Palestine (the land of Yaa or Upper Retenu) during the early Middle Kingdom around 1950 B.C. As a privileged youth in the royal court, Sinuhe had overheard the plot by eunuchs to assassinate the pharaoh Amenemhet I and decided it was the best course to flee the country. The land of the‘amu, or Asiatics, had long been viewed as a marginal area, inhabited by bedouin groups and small-scale agriculturalists. Time and again, the Egyptians had invaded and milked...

  17. CHAPTER 10 Lands of Dionysos: Greece and Western Anatolia
    (pp. 239-278)

    In the summer of 1996, my laboratory had just published an article inNaturemagazine on the earliest resinated wine thus far attested by chemical analysis, a well-aged 7400-year-old vintage from Iran (chapter 4). In the midst of riding the wave of publicity, I got a telephone call from Holley Martlew, a Greek archaeologist. Holley had a proposition for me: Would I be interested in joining her and the then-director-general of Antiquities of Greece, Yannis Tzedakis, in a project entitled “Minoans and Mycenaeans: Flavours of Their Time,” to be funded by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and the European Union?...

  18. CHAPTER 11 A Beverage for King Midas and at the Limits of the Civilized World
    (pp. 279-298)

    It is not known whether the “Greek grog” (chapter 10) was still being produced during the “Dark Age” from the late twelfth century down to the eighth B.C. When the curtain rises again, a tomb on the central Anatolian plateau at the famous capital city of Gordion provides provocative testimony to its continued popularity in an area more than 1100 kilometers away from the Crete and the Greek mainland and 500 years later.

    Completely by chance and in a study unrelated to the Greek project (chapter 10), my laboratory had embarked on a study of the ancient organic residues inside...

  19. CHAPTER 12 Molecular Archaeology, Wine, and a View to the Future
    (pp. 299-316)

    The history of civilization, in many ways, is the history of wine. Economically, religiously, socially, medically, and politically, the domesticated grapevine has intertwined itself with human culture from at least the Neolithic period and probably long before that. We recapitulate that history every time we pick up a glass of wine and savor the fruit of a Eurasian plant that has been cloned, crossed, and transplanted again and again from its beginnings in the Near East more than 7000 years ago.

    Most histories of wine begin where this one leaves off. They focus primarily on Greek and Roman literary texts,...

    (pp. 317-328)
    (pp. 329-334)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 335-368)