3500 years of wine in Italy. Early traces in the Terramare

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The oldest traces of wine consumption in Italy date back to the Bronze Age, 3500 years ago. They emerged for the first time thanks to archaeological excavations conducted in Bondeno, Ferrarese, by the Department of Cultural Heritage of the University of Padua.
The discovery is described in a study published in November 2020 in the Journal of Archaeological Science, a scientific journal covering‘the development and application of scientific techniques and methodologies to all areas of archaeology.’ (1)

Wine consumption in the Bronze Age

The archaeological site of Pilastri di Bondeno dates back to the Terramare culture in the Po Valley. In an archaeobotanical context where researchers, coordinated by Prof. Massimo Vidale, consider that Vitis vinifera L. was known and used as early as the Middle Bronze Age.

The Terramare are the ancient villages that arose in the middle of the 2nd millennium BC in Emilia and the lower Po Valley areas (present-day provinces of Cremona, Mantua and Verona). A Park has been created around some of the remains that have emerged in the hillock of Montale, reproducing the setting, ‘visitable’ even from a distance, in this historical period.

Tartaric acid in ancient bowls

Evidence of consumption of wine or other grape derivatives (such as vinegar or must) 3500 years ago is suggested by the analysis of organic residues on pottery recovered from both the aforementioned Pilastri di Bondeno (Ferrara) site and the Canale Anfora (Aquileia, Udine) site.

Indeed, analyses performed by Alessandra Pecci of the University of Barcelona reveal the presence of tartaric acid and other wine bio-markers in more than a third of the fragments recovered from several ceramic vessels. More specifically in 20 of 31 samples analyzed including glasses, bowls (like the one on the cover), coarse pots, and presumed storage vessels (15th-14th century B.C.).

Traces of sulfur and resin

The researchers explain that in some cases the organic residues also contain traces of sulfur and pine resin. It is speculated that sulfur was added into the drink for anti-fermentative purposes, that is, used to sterilize the containers.

Instead, traces of pine resin could indicate a waterproofing technique for the inner walls of the vessels.

Wine consumption in the Mediterranean

In the other site archaeological object of the study, Canale Anfora, the local stratigraphy had already uncovered macro-rests of Vitis vinifera L. A further indication, according to the researchers, that grape juice derivatives (including wine and/or vinegar) were probably consumed at the sites. ‘Combined with botanical evidence, these results contribute to our understanding of the emergence of wine consumption in the Western Mediterranean‘.

Notes

(1) Alessandra Pecci, Elisabetta Borgna, Simona Mileto, Elisa Dalla Longa, Giovanna Bosi, Assunta Florenzano, Anna Maria Mercuri, Susi Corazza, Marco Marchesini, Massimo Vidale, Wine consumption in Bronze Age Italy: combining organic residue analysis, botanical data and ceramic variability. Journal of Archaeological Science. Volume 123, November 2020, 105256. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2020.105256

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".