Earliest Evidence of French Winemaking Discovered

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An ancient limestone platform dating back to 425 B.C is the oldest wine press ever discovered on French soil.

The press is the first evidence of winemaking in what is now modern-day France, according to new research published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The evidence suggests inhabitants of the region of Etruria got the ancient residents of France hooked. (Etruria covered parts of modern-day Tuscany, Latium and Umbria in Italy.)

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"Now we know that the ancient Etruscans lured the Gauls into the Mediterranean wine culture by importing wine into southern France," study researcher Patrick McGovern, who directs the Bimolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, said in a statement. "This built up a demand that could only be met by establishing a native industry." In Photos: Amazing Ruins of the Ancient World

The spread of wine

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Humans first domesticated the Eurasian grapevine some 9,000 years ago in the Near East, perhaps in what is now Turkey or Iran. Gradually, the intoxicating beverage spread across the Mediterranean Sea, conveyed by Phoenicians and Greeks. By 800 B.C., the Phoenicians were trading wine with the Etruscans, storing it in large jars called amphoras.

Shipwrecks from around 600 B.C. are filled with these Etruscan amphoras, suggesting that residents of the area that is now Italy were by then exporting their own wine. In the coastal town of Lattara, near modern-day Lattes, France, a merchant storage complex full of these amphoras has been found, dating back to the town's heyday of 525 B.C. to 475 B.C.

McGovern and his colleagues analyzed three of these amphoras to find out if they really contained wine. They also analyzed an odd limestone discovery shaped like a rounded platform with a spout, thought to be a press of some sort. Whether the locals used the press to smash olives or grapes was unknown.

Analyzing amphoras

The researchers followed careful standards for the artifacts they analyzed: Amphoras had to be excavated undisturbed and sealed, with their bases intact and available for analysis. They also had to be unwashed and had to contain possible residue.

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