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2,000-year-old wine discovered in ancient Roman tomb

In a remarkable archaeological study, a team of researchers has identified what is now considered the oldest wine ever found in still in liquid form.

The wine was discovered in an ancient Roman tomb in Carmona, Spain, where six individuals were buried over 2,000 years ago.

Among them were Hispana and Senicio, whose funerary rituals have provided us with an extraordinary glimpse into ancient practices.

Ancient wine in a Roman tomb

The Roman tomb was unearthed by archaeologists in 2019. Among the remains, a man’s bones were immersed in a liquid within a glass urn. This liquid, preserved since the first century AD, had taken on a reddish hue.

Initially, it was hard to believe that the liquid could remain intact for over two millennia. However, the tomb’s exceptional conservation conditions, being fully sealed and intact, allowed the liquid to be preserved without external contamination.

Once-in-a-lifetime discovery

The initial surprise gave way to scientific curiosity. To verify that the liquid was indeed wine, researchers from the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Cordoba conducted a series of chemical analyses.

The research was led by Professor José Rafael Ruiz Arrebola in collaboration with the City of Carmona. The analyses were performed at the Central Research Support Service (SCAI).

“It’s something unique,” said Ruiz Arrebola. “We have been lucky to find it and analyze it – it’s something you only see once in your life.”

Ancient wine analysis

The team examined the liquid’s pH, mineral salts, and chemical compounds related to the glass urn and the bones. They compared these findings to modern wines from Montilla-Moriles, Jerez, and Sanlúcar.

“Given that the liquid contained in the ash urn was about 2,000 years old, determining its elemental composition was of utmost importance because any organic matter in it should either be present in very low contents or have disappeared altogether,” noted the researchers.

They set out to detect specific polyphenols – biomarkers that are present in all wine. Using advanced techniques, the team identified seven polyphenols common among the modern wines examined for the study.

Notably, the absence of syringic acid indicated that the wine was white, though its absence might also result from degradation over time.

Gender and funerary rituals

The discovery revealed more than just ancient wine; it also shed light on Roman funerary practices and gender roles.

In ancient Rome, wine was predominantly a man’s drink, and women were generally prohibited from consuming it. This societal norm was reflected in the Carmona tomb.

The man’s urn contained wine, a gold ring, and bone remains from his cremation bed. In contrast, the woman’s urn held amber jewels, a perfume bottle with patchouli scent, and silk fabric remnants – with no trace of wine.

These items were part of a funerary trousseau meant to accompany the deceased into the afterlife. Such practices highlight how death in ancient Rome had profound significance.

Roman funerary traditions

The Carmona tomb, once a circular mausoleum likely belonging to a wealthy family, now stands as a testament to the rich funerary traditions of ancient Rome.

Located along the road connecting Carmo with Hispalis (Seville), the mausoleum has offered invaluable insights into historical rituals.

The discovery of the world’s oldest wine not only brings us closer to understanding these ancient customs but also immortalizes Hispana, Senicio, and their companions.

Significance of the ancient wine

The implications of finding ancient wine extend into various fields of study and offer new avenues for future research.

Archaeologists and historians can further explore the sociocultural significance of wine in different ancient civilizations, comparing Roman practices with those of other cultures.

Chemists and biologists may analyze the wine’s composition to understand ancient preservation techniques and agricultural practices, providing insights into how ancient peoples cultivated and stored their food and beverages.

“So far, all studies aimed at the chemical characterization of Roman wines – or ancient wines in general – have relied on analyses of absorbed remains (carboxylic acids and polyphenols, mainly) in various types of vessels, but never on liquids,” noted the study authors.

Moreover, this discovery opens up possibilities for modern winemakers and food preservationists to learn from ancient methods, potentially reviving lost techniques that could improve contemporary practices.

The study is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports.


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