Grape-Pressings from Northern Greece: The Earliest Wine in the Aegean?

Article excerpt


The significance of the grape and its products, mainly wine, for prehistoric societies in the Aegean, in particular those of the Bronze Age, has been widely emphasised in the archaeological literature. Both Renfrew (1972) and Gilman (1981) considered viticulture as a key factor in the emergence of Bronze Age elites. For Renfrew, viticulture (together with the cultivation of the olive) allowed the cultivation of marginal land, thus generating the need for a redistributive centre. According to Gilman, the high demands of viticulture tied people to the land and rendered them more vulnerable to control. The product of viticulture, wine, due to its intoxicating, mind-altering properties could have constituted a very special 'food substance', a 'diet enhancer' (Sherratt 1999), which could have been used in special social contexts of consumption (Sherratt 1987), feasting in particular (Dietler 2001). Thus wine represents a substance that could have been involved in the negotiation of power (Hamilakis 1996) and the maintenance of social cohesion in the Aegean (Andreou 2003). The significance of the consumption of a drink, most likely wine, in feasting contexts among Late Bronze Age societies in the Aegean, is emphasised in recent work on the 'Mycenaean Feast' (Wright 2004). The recognition of wine in the archaeological record is therefore of major significance.

One method that has been employed for the detection of wine is the chemical analysis of pottery residues. The identification of tartaric acid (Singleton 1995) in pots is a potential indicator for a grape-based alcoholic beverage. Finds of tartaric acid in vessels from Hajji Firuz Tepe in Iran, dating to the sixth millennium BC (5400-5000 BC, McGovern et al. 1996), and from Godin Tepe at a later date in the same region, have been interpreted as the remains of 'wine', a conclusion corroborated by the study of pottery shapes (McGovern & Mitchel 1995). Residue analysis from the Aegean has identified 'wine' by the end of the third millennium BC (Early Bronze Age) in vessels from Crete (Tzedakis & Martlew 1999: 145).

Other means employed to infer the use of wine by prehistoric societies include the study of the remains of the grape-vine found at archaeological sites (Renfrew 1973) and the recognition of its cultivation through the identification of morphologically domesticated grape pips (Renfrew 1995; 2003). Nevertheless, the association between morphologically domesticated grape-pips with grape cultivation and wine production is not without its problems. At what point in the process of the exploitation of the grapevine a change in morphology of the grape pips took place remains unknown; therefore the possibility that morphologically wild pips could have derived from cultivated vines and that wine was made of wild grapes cannot be excluded (Rivera Nunez & Walker 1989). The archaeobotanical evidence from Greece has led to the suggestion that there was a 'transitional' phase during which the grape pips were neither wild nor domesticated in their entirety (Logothetis 1974; Renfrew 1995).

A more direct contribution of the archaeobotanical evidence consists of the remains of grape juice extraction per se. These finds consist of grape-skins occasionally attached to grape-pips. Such finds are reported from the end of the third millennium at Myrtos in Crete (Renfrew, J. 1972), tentatively identified as such, and from the end of the second millennium (Late Bronze Age) at Toumba, Thessalonikis, here experimentally shown to represent wine pressings (Mangafa et al. 1998).

This paper presents archaeobotanical remains that prove the deliberate use of grape juice, possibly for the production of a fermented beverage, and most probably some form of wine. Dating from the end of the fifth millennium BC, this can be claimed as the earliest occurrence of wine in the Aegean.

Charred wine-pressings from Dikili Tash

Dikili Tash/Philippoi (Figure 1) is a tell-site situated in the Drama plain in eastern Macedonia, northern Greece (Koukouli et al. …