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Hints of 9,000-Year-Old Wine Unearthed in China

Science File

December 11, 2004|From Reuters

Neolithic people in China may have been the first in the world to make wine, according to scientists who have found the earliest evidence of winemaking from pottery shards dating from 7000 BC in northern China.

Previously, the oldest evidence of fermented beverages dated from 5400 BC and was found at the Neolithic site of Hajji Firuz Tepe in Iran.

But in a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania said laboratory tests on pottery jars from the village of Jiahu in Henan province had shown traces of a mixed fermented drink of rice, honey and either grapes or hawthorn fruit.

"This evidence appears to suggest that the Chinese developed fermented beverages even earlier than the Middle East, or perhaps at the same time," McGovern told Reuters. "Maybe there were some indirect ties between the Middle East and Central Asia at that time in ancient civilization."

McGovern, a molecular archeologist at the university's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, also analyzed samples of 3,000-year-old wine from hermetically sealed bronze vessels found in Shang Dynasty burial tombs from the Yellow River Basin.

The liquid was preserved because a thin layer of rust had sealed the bronze jars, he said.

A small sample of the remains of the wine, a clear colorless liquid, gave off a faint aroma similar to nail polish remover or varnish. McGovern said when he first smelled the wine it was floral scented.

One of the ancient jars contained a liquid that had traces of wormwood, suggesting the beverage might have been an early version of absinthe.

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