China may be famed for its tea, but never for its wine. And yet, new research suggests that this was the land where wine was first made. The evidence, dated from 7,000 BC, was found at Jiahu, in the Yellow River Basin of the Henan province of northern China.
Jiahu is a compelling archaeological site, renowned for its cultural and artistic relics. Among the ancient houses, archaeologists have uncovered kilns, turquoise carvings, stone tools and flutes made from bone (these were thought to be the earliest examples of musical instruments ever found, but the newly discovered flutes detailed earlier in News now take this title).
Music, drink, art, these people seem to have liked the good life. Indeed, their penchant for brewed beverages was revealed by laboratory tests on pottery jars, which revealed traces of a mixed fermented drink made from a heady concoction of rice, honey, and either grapes or Hawthorne fruit.
Until this discovery, the oldest evidence of fermented beverages was dated to 5400 BC, and comes from the Neolithic site of Hajji Firuz Tepe in Iran. Perhaps, suggests Dr Patrick McGovern a molecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania who undertook the new research, the innovation happened at the same time in both countries, but that older evidence from Iran remains to be found. Were there some indirect ties between the Middle east and Central Asia at that time in ancient civilization, McGovern wonders.

1000 BC – a good vintage?
The local liking for liquor continued down the centuries, according to McGovern’s research. He also analysed samples of 3,000-year-old wine from hermetically sealed bronze vessels found in Shang Dynasty burial tombs from the Yellow River Basin. Here, wine was deposited in the tombs of high-ranking individuals to sustain them in the afterlife. The wine, which was clear and colourless, had been preserved because a thin layer of rust had sealed the bronze jars completely. When opened, it was initially floral scented, but after exposure to the atmosphere the aroma quickly degraded and gave off a scent akin to nail-polish remover.
Analysis later revealed that the wine was flavoured with herbs and flowers or tree resins. One of the ancient jars also contained a liquid that had traces of wormwood, suggesting the beverage might have been an early version of absinthe.

News – Nadia Durrani
nadia@archaeology.co.uk


This article is an extract from the full article published in World Archaeology Issue 9. Click here to subscribe

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