Now that's what you call a real vintage: professor unearths 8,000-year-old wine

David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent

28 December 2003


Scientists have discovered the world's oldest wine - a vintage produced by Stone Age people 8,000 years ago. The find pushes back the history of wine by several hundred years.


New discoveries show how Neolithic man was busy "bottling" and deliberately ageing red wine in Georgia, the former Soviet republic. Although no liquid wine from the period has survived, scientists have now found and tested wine residues discovered on the inner surfaces of 8,000-year-old ceramic storage jars.


Biochemical tests on the ancient pottery wine jars from Georgia are showing that at this early period humans were deliberately adding anti-bacterial preservatives to grape juice so that the resulting wine could be kept for longer periods after fermentation. The preservative used was tree resin, which contains several bactericidal compounds, says Professor Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, the scientist leading the study of ceramics from the 6th and 5th millennia BC. The wine may have tasted something like retsina, the resin-preserved wine still popular in Greece.


The development of pottery in the Middle East and the Caucasus regions also seems to have played a key role in the production of the first wines, especially vintage ones. Ceramic containers were able to preserve wines far better than the plaster or leather containers that had previously been used. Plaster was far too porous and reactive, while sealed animal skin or leather bags could not be used to store wine for sufficiently long periods. Examination of the pottery shards has also revealed the large carrying capacity of these early wine jars - around five litres.


Professor McGovern's study has also yielded extraordinary evidence of the cultural - and probably religious - importance of early vintage wine. While examining Neolithic Georgian pottery jars used to store and age wine, he discovered a series of tiny, highly stylised relief images of Stone Age people celebrating the vine. The ancient world had a long tradition deifying the source of wine, and Professor McGovern believes he may have stumbled upon the prehistoric origins of what much later evolved into wine cults such as those of the Greek god Dionysus and Dionysus's Roman equivalent, Bacchus. He has recently published his ground-breaking discoveries in a book, Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture (Princeton University Press).


Eight thousand years ago, the archaeological site where the oldest wine jar shards were found, Shulaveri in Georgia, was a small, densely populated hill-top town. Archaeological investigations have revealed several houses containing wine jars. Intriguingly, the area lies adjacent to the region associated with one of the world's first recorded drunks, the biblical figure Noah, whose first non-religious act after the flood was to plant a vineyard.



Bam citadel to be rebuilt in 5 years: Minister


TEHRAN (IRNA) - Bam citadel, ruined by a devastating 6.3-Richter quake last week, will be rebuilt in the next five years by skilled experts, said Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Ahmad Masjed-Jameie here Wednesday.

Masjed-Jameie made the remark after visiting the quake-ravaged areas in southeast of Iran.


He added that many countries and international organizations have voiced readiness to contribute to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the monument.

The minister said skilled archaeological and seismographic experts are to be involved in the rehabilitation project.


He added that a team of experts have been temporarily settled in the area to protect the historic collection and the cultural heritage office in Kerman Province has been commissioned to unearth manuscripts from under the debris.


He said a group of documentary and film makers are to start making documentaries and illustrative archives on the dimensions and extent of damage inflicted on the historic monument.


Meanwhile, Head of Iran's Touring and Travelling Organization and Deputy Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance Taha Abd-e Khodaie, who is currently on a visit to Beirut, told IRNA Wednesday the 2,000-year citadel had undergone reconstruction after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and had later turned into a museum. Its reconstruction on the basis of the existing documents on the ancient structure would be possible, he noted.


Abd-e Khodaie touched on the beauty and antiquity of the monument and the effective role the place plays in tourist attraction, saying thousands of tourists from Asia and Europe had visited the historical site, becoming amazed how the nice mud-brick structure resisted for more than 2,000 years.


Iran has announced that it is ready to reconstruct the monument at whatever cost. President Mohammad Khatami said in Kerman Tuesday that the historic citadel of Bam would be rebuilt at "whatever cost."


The citadel, considered one of the architectural jewels of the world heritage, sat on top of a rocky outcrop in the middle of the desert, above the historic city.


With its 2,000-year-old palm trees, traditional houses, ramparts and bazaar, it was a striking example of pre-Islamic architecture.


There have been enormous bids for reconstruction of the citadel, both from Iran and abroad including Egypt, Italy, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Rome University.


No figures have so far been put forward as to how much the rebuilding work might cost but the government has made 400 million dollars available for work on the modern city, of which 150 million is interest-free loan package.



Unesco wants team sent in to save ancient castle from collapse



AN INTERNATIONAL operation was launched last night to save the historic fortress in the Iranian city of Bam by the United Nations’ heritage body.


As well as flattening the city of Bam, the quake destroyed much of the landmark castle, which has stood for two millennia.


While international teams battle to rescue trapped victims and comfort survivors, top officials at the United Nations cultural agency, Unesco, have been formulating plans to save the imposing citadel, called Arg-i-Bam.


It is feared the remaining parts of the mud-brick building could collapse after being weakened by the quake unless action is taken quickly.


Unesco chiefs have now asked Iran for permission to send a team of its experts to the fortress, which has been under consideration for the agency’s list of protected World Heritage Sites.


"The site of Bam is considered one of the very, very important sites of mud-brick architecture," said Mounir Bouchenaki, a Unesco heritage specialist.


Parts of the Old City - once an important stop on the Silk Road through Asia - date back to the time of Jesus, although most of the city’s structures were built in the 15th to 18th centuries. For decades, the citadel had been the chief attraction for the tourists who visit the pleasant oasis city, which has a low skyline dominated by palm and eucalyptus trees.


About 100,000 visitors a year from all over the world come to Bam.


The castle, which was inhabited throughout most of its existence, dates mostly from the Safavid period (1502-1722), when it was home to between 9,000 and 13,000 people and covered more than six square kilometres.


Built of mud bricks, clay, straw and the trunks of palm trees, it is said to have been the largest structure of its kind in the world. Until this weekend, the crenellated clay walls, dotted with nearly 30 small towers, were still intact.


A small gatehouse was the only way into the ancient city, surrounded by a triple ring of fortifications.




Spectacular medieval complex on Old Silk Road now lies in ruins

By David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent

27 December 2003


The old part of Bam was one of the world's most spectacular and best-preserved deserted medieval cities.


In architectural and archaeological terms, the ancient Middle Eastern palace city was of major international importance. Surrounded by a magnificent 16th-century city wall, and entered into through complex gateways, the old town has long been famous in Iran for its vast urban landscape of abandoned houses, shops and mosques.


At the heart of the medieval city, inner ramparts enclosed the spectacular palace citadel. It lies on the Old Silk Road, the ancient trading route that connected East Asia to Europe by camel caravans, and flourished as a trading centre and pilgrimage site.


Bam was founded more than 1,500 years ago, and in pre-Islamic times was a centre for the ancient Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. However, many of Bam's old buildings actually date from somewhat later - the 16th and 17th centuries. The thousands of deserted buildings in the old city (which once covered 6 sq km and had a population of up to 13,000) are all made of mud-brick, clay and palm tree timber.


The new town - adjacent to the old one - is densely inhabited and was constructed in the 19th and 20th centuries after its predecessor had been attacked by Afghan and other invaders in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

The deserted parts of the old city were regarded by archaeologists and architectural historians as one of the most complete surviving records of a medieval/early modern urban environment anywhere in the world.


It was used as an army barracks until 1932, after which it was abandoned.

In minutes, Bam's 2,000 years of history and its hopes for the future were left in ruins


Tania Branigan

Saturday December 27, 2003

The Guardian


For two millennia the tawny walls of the ancient citadel at Bam rose from the vast Dasht'e Kavir desert, drawing traders and pilgrims towards the lush oasis. But in just a few minutes yesterday morning, those centuries of splendour vanished as one of Iran's greatest archaeological treasures was levelled. The citadel, one of the greatest mudbrick structures in the world, had simply crumbled - along with hundreds of houses in the modern city around it.


While Bam has a long and glorious past it was its more recent success as an agricultural and industrial centre which drew thousands of migrants from across the south-east of Iran, indirectly leading to the earthquake's huge death toll.

Large-scale, low-quality construction dominated as foreign and domestic investment boosted the city's population to as many as 200,000 inhabitants. Residents copied the mudbrick structures of their ancestors, but added heavier roofing and threw up the buildings rapidly to cope with the desperate shortage of housing.


Until yesterday Bam's rapid growth appeared to herald a city on the rise. Much of the credit for its expansion is owed to Iran's former president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was born to a pistachio-farming family in the region.

The city is famed for its rich crops: above all its dates, but also the oranges which are currently in season. Lush citrus groves surround the urban sprawl.

Mr Rafsanjani used his position to electrify the city - although power was cut off by yesterday's quake - and create the Arg special economic zone at Bam, where Daewoo car seats are now manufactured. Further investment brought hotels, sports fields, a race course and an airport - which may prove crucial to the international rescue and relief operation.


The new facilities now lie amid the devastation of the older areas, where residents yesterday shivered around the bonfires they had built on rubble-strewn streets.


"The historical quarter of the city has been completely destroyed and caused great human loss," said Mehran Nourbakhsh, chief spokesman for the Red Crescent.


There could be no greater contrast with the splendour the city once knew. Its citadel, Arg-e Bam, built from mud bricks, straw and the trunks of palm trees, covers almost six square kilometres. Hundreds of houses encircled the ruler's palace; its central stables housed 200 horses; and it boasted a prison, a bazaar and a gymnasium. It appears that few of those structures remain today.

"It's a tragedy for the whole country," said Shahrokh Razmjou, a curator at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran.


"The citadel is one of the greatest structures made in mudbrick in the world. Outside the fortified walls you have traces of the Parthian period, almost 2,000 years ago, and there are references to the town in documents from earlier periods as well."


Dr Razmjou said that over time the town has developed layer upon layer. "There have been reconstructions and changes to the city in different dynasties. You have almost everything there from different periods: mosques, schools, the palace for governor and houses for the people."


Bam became an important commercial centre because of its location on the Silk Road between China and Europe, and the southern trade route from Pakistan and India. The city is just 350km (217 miles) west of modern Pakistan.

It was celebrated for its high quality textiles, and its Zoroastrian fire temple - later replaced by a mosque - attracted pilgrims from across the region. At the height of its power, in the Savafid period, between the 16th and 18th centuries, it was home to almost 13,000 people.


But it gradually declined in importance after an Afghan invasion in 1722, and most residents moved to areas outside the walls in the 19th century, leaving the citadel to be used as barracks until even the army abandoned it in 1932.

Restoration efforts began 21 years later, and after the revolution it became a major tourist site, attracting more than 100,000 visitors each year.

But tourism had recently been hit by crime in the region, including the kidnap of western holidaymakers by armed gangs.


Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised visitors to exercise caution and travel only with government-approved tours.


The loss of valuable income from foreign holidaymakers will compound the desperate plight of Bam's residents. "Historically and archaeologically the whole area is very, very rich and a very important part of Iran," said Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis, a curator at the British Museum and editor of Iran, a journal of Iranian studies.


"It's a terrible shame, though the human loss is of course far greater. With this earthquake the damage is probably so, so great that I don't know whether they can reconstruct [the citadel]. They did a lot of work there with the Cultural Heritage Foundation and have detailed plans so they do know exactly what the outlines are. But of course it would be very difficult - and costly - to reconstruct it."

Unesco, the United Nations main cultural agency, has asked Tehran for permission to dispatch an assessment team to examine what remains of the structure.


John Curtis, keeper of the ancient near east at the British Museum, said that the Iranian government had a good record in preserving cultural sites, but that there were not many precautions they could have taken to prevent damage to a site such as the citadel.


"They have looked after archaeological and historic sites very well and I'm sure they will do their best to minimise the impact of this disaster, but it will be substantial nonetheless," he said.


"It's a very spectacular site, incredibly well preserved, which is why it's so important; it's a whole 18th century town. It's a great loss to the cultural heritage of Iran.


"The tourist trade in Iran has been gradually increasing ever since the revolution and there are many spectacular sites. But I have no doubt they were hoping to promote and encourage tourism and this is obviously a blow to that effort."



Archaeologists unearth 4,000-year-old tomb

AP in Cairo

Thursday January 1, 2004

The Guardian


Polish and Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed a necropolis containing the 4,000-year-old stone tomb of a royal official, Egypt's supreme council of antiquities announced yesterday.


The culture minister, Farouk Hosni, said that the necropolis, near the pyramids of Saqqara, 15 miles south of Cairo, held the tomb of a man called Ny-Ankh-


Nefetem, identified in hieroglyphic writing as the god's servant of the pyramids of the kings Unas and Teti, who ruled successively from 2375BC to 2291BC.


The rectangular-shaped tomb had false doors, a chapel, and a burial chamber decorated with scenes showing part of the deceased's daily life and his titles, including keeper of the king's property and head steward of the Great House.


Most of the reliefs were well preserved, the most impressive one showing the deceased walking with his son. An official said the tomb was found below a cluster of mummy remains, coffins and skeletons dating from the late ancient Egyptian, Ptolemaic and Greco-Roman periods.



Music man's bid to restore harmony in Middle East




A SCOTTISH musicologist is bringing a little harmony to the Middle East by recreating an instrument that has not been heard since the days of the Old Testament.


John Kenny was part of a team of scientists and musicians who resurrected the Pictish instrument known as the carnyx, a 2,000-year-old metal trumpet in the shape of a boar’s head which was used by ancient Scots in their battle against Roman invasion.


Using this experience, Kenny, a teacher at Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, is now working with Israeli and Palestinian academics to recreate an ancient horn instrument described in the Old Testament.


Using traditional methods, Kenny joined forces with musicologist John Percer, metalworker John Creed and archeologist Fraser Hunter to reconstruct the carnyx in 1998 from the fragile remnants of an original instrument discovered in the Moray Firth in the 19th century.


Since then the team have worked on a range of projects seeking to bring the music of the ancient world back to life.


Earlier this year, the Scottish group helped recreate two working models of Irish Bronze Age instruments, the Ard Brinn Horn and the Lough Nasaed Trumpet.


Kenny, who lives in Edinburgh and has recorded several CDs of music featuring the carnyx, is now working with musicians and archaeologists in Egypt, Israel, Greece and Turkey who sought advice on reconstructing ancient instruments from their own countries.


Among the instruments that could be recreated are the hazerot, which consists of a pair of joined silver trumpets and is mentioned in the Old Testament.


Although no surviving instruments have ever been found, a representation can be found on the Arch of Titus, which portrays how they were used by defending forces when Roman Emperor Titus sacked of Jerusalem in 70AD.


The instrument was used in conjunction with the shofar - which is carved from a ram’s horn - to gather people to tribal meetings, to alert camps of danger and to signal in warfare.


Working with renowned music expert Professor Joachin Braun at the University of Jerusalem and Palestinian musician Bassam Abdul Salam, Kenny’s ambition is to create a working example of the instrument that can be used by musicians on both sides of the divide.


He said: "It is absolutely essential to work with academics in Arab lands and in Israel because modern boundaries have very little to do with pre-classical boundaries and the variations of the instrument were common to Arab and Israeli people. This means working cross-culturally.


"The people do share a common base for their musical culture. There is far more to unite them than divide them.


"I have had some talks with people in Jerusalem and we are now looking at the best way of funding the project."


Metal horns and trumpets were common across much of the Pictish world, such as Scotland, Ireland and France, and similar brass and silver instruments were found in ancient Egypt, Greece, the Middle East and Indus Valley.



Indonesian Replica Ship on Course to Complete Historic Voyage


JAKARTA (AFP) -- A replica of an eighth-century Indonesian schooner has survived two tropical storms and ripped sails in a voyage across the Indian Ocean and is on course to complete its journey retracing an ancient trade route.

The Samudraraksa, an 18.3-meter (60-foot) wooden craft, left Jakarta port in August and is currently in South Africa, officials involved in the voyage told reporters by telephone late Monday.


The ship is "waiting for the right moment" to complete its journey to Accra in Ghana in early February, said Indonesian Tourism Minister I Gede Ardika.

The craft, the brainchild of Briton Philip Beale, is based on a carving which he saw at the giant Buddhist temple of Borobudur in Central Java 20 years ago. Speaking at the same press conference, Beale described the journey -- which retraced the Indian Ocean route traveled by sailors in the first millennium -- as "an exciting trip."


"We've gone through two tropical storms. The sails were ripped in pieces. It was quite an experience," he said. Beale turned his dream ship into reality with the help of marine archaeologist Nick Burningham.


Both men had researched and designed a model of the ship and hired Indonesian As'ad Abdullah, 69, a traditional shipbuilder from Kangean island off the coast of East Java, to build the replica.


Burningham has said the Borobudur ships were local in origin since they had a whole range of features only found in Indonesia.


These included triangular masts, distinctive hulls and short outriggers that were not there to provide balance but to give rowers additional space.

Ardika said the ship will eventually be put on display at the Jakarta National Museum.


Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, was the seat of successive great maritime regional kingdoms until the advent of Western colonial powers in the 16th century.



Invention of pottery linked to snail eating: archeologists


Archeologists say China's most primitive pottery was made to cook freshwater snails in south China, after studying relics in Zengpiyan Cave in Guilin City, capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.


Archeologists say China's most primitive pottery was made to cook freshwater snails in south China, after studying relics in Zengpiyan Cave in Guilin City, capital of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.


The cave represents Neolithic culture in south China about 12,000 to 7,000 years ago. It yielded the country's most primitive potsherds, estimated to be 12,000 years old.


People in south China had been using fire to cook wild plants or animals long before they started cooking shellfish in pottery, said Fu Xianguo, a researcher with the Institute of Archeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).


"Freshwater snails were one of their staple foods, judging by the quantities of snail shells found in various strata. Our experiments show it is necessary to heat them before consumption, otherwise it's difficult to release the meat from the shells," Fu said.


Like any technological innovation, the creation of pottery is believed to have been embedded in some cultural context.


There were various hypotheses on how and why pottery was created.


Some said it was related with mud-brick house construction, others believed it was created to meet culinary needs or for subsistence strategies.


Richard Pearson, an independent Canadian archeologist, agreed that pottery could have developed under different circumstances indifferent contexts, but he disagreed with the proposal that it wasmade to cook snails. "They could also have been roasted or baked,"he said.