Neolithic pottery shards were found to contain grape wine residue from 6000-5800 B.C., almost 1,000 years earlier than previously thought.
"As a Georgian, we always believed that wine came from Georgia, but now we have scientific evidence from natural science and archaeology to prove it," said David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgian National Museum and co-author of the study published
Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The new discovery reinforces the established and well preserved culture of wine in the country.
"We have an uninterrupted history of wine in Georgia -- the jars found in the Neolithic period are similar to the vessels we still use today," said Lordkipanidze.
The team analyzed 18 shards from pottery jars uncovered in recent years from multiple sites across Georgia, as well as samples from a 1960 excavation.
The shards tested positive for tartaric acid, which gives wine its tart flavor, and were dated to the early Neolithic period, 6000-5000 B.C. They also contained samples of grape pollen.
"This early Neolithic date is quite surprising. The Caucasus has been proposed as a key area for domestication by Soviet archaeologists already ... there have been claims that grains were actually domesticated for beer making, but nobody yet guessed at the high antiquity of wine," added Ulrike Sommer, senior lecturer at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, who was not involved in the new study.
The research team believes the jars were most likely used for all three stages of winemaking -- fermentation, aging and serving.
The three-year research project was funded by the National Wine Agency of Georgia.
"This study proves that the human relationship with wine has a truly deep history, rivaling our long-term experimentation with beer," said Augusta McMahon, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge who was not involved in the new study.
Viniculture, the practice of making wine, was a crucial step in the process of human evolution, inextricably linked to the development of agriculture. The earliest samples illustrate human ingenuity in developing methods to press and preserve extracts, the study states.
Earlier this year, in August, researchers found traces
of 6,000-year-old wine on ancient pottery recovered from a Sicilian cave, rewriting the history of wine-making on the Italian peninsula.
The cave was used from prehistory to Classical times as a site for religious rituals, with the wine possibly offered to underground deities, said Davide Tanasi of the University of South Florida, who led that research.
Prior to this, the earliest evidence for grape wine in the Near East (Western Asia and the Middle East) was found in Iran, near the Zagros Mountains, dating to 5400-5000 B.C.
But the new findings push the date of origin back further.
Wine, as a drink, has historically played a dominant role in culture -- first as medicine, then in rituals and traditions, now consumed as a much-loved indulgence.
"This will surely resonate with anyone who now makes wine in their shed or brews beer in their garage," said McMahon.