Why bread and wine have been consumed together since the Stone Age
New study finds that grapes were cultivated several thousand years earlier than previously thought, suggesting they developed at the same time as wheat
Bread and wine
It has been widely documented that people began domesticating wheat around eleven millennia ago.
But previous archaeological evidence had suggested it took at least another 2,500 years before humans began domesticating grapevines and other fruit trees, putting their appearance some time between between 5,500 and 8,500 years ago.
Now, scientists have made a discovery which could help explain why wine and bread have become so intrinsically linked.
They have found that humans started planting vineyards much earlier than previously thought – at around the same time that they started planting wheat, 11,000 years ago.
This means that the people of the Early Neolithic era of the Stone Age can now be credited with first planting both wheat and grapes – the second of which had previously been attributed to the middle part of the Neolithic era.
Representing the final part of the Stone Age, the Neolithic period is generally thought to have run from 12,000 years ago to around 2,500 years ago, suggesting the same sliver of history is responsible for grapes and wheat cultivation.
“The previous consensus stated that the domestication of perennial fruit trees such as grapevines lagged behind in time compared to the domestication of annual grains with archaeological evidence dating the domestication of perennial fruit crops to between 8,500 to 5,500 years ago,” Wei Chen, from Yunnan Agricultural University in China, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in Washington.
“However, our estimation from genomic data put the grapevine domestication time around the same time people domesticated grain crops.”
The research is published in the journal Science.
Dr Chen adds that domestication occurred simultaneously in two locations, occurring “about 11,000 years ago in Western Asia and the Caucasus to yield table and wine grapevines”.
The Caucasus region takes in a group of countries between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea that includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and parts of Southern Russia.
Dr Chen says migrant farmers are probably responsible for our wide choice of wines in western Europe, bringing it from western Asia into Europe.
The grapevines then “diversified along human migration trails into muscat and unique western wine grape ancestries by the late Neolithic,” he said.
Wine grapes in the Balkans can be dated back to 8,700 years ago, in Spain and Portugal to 7,740 years ago and in Western Europe to 6,910 years ago.