Thursday, January 13, 2011

Truly Vintage

I had to look for it, but I found the blog I posted on June 27. It was a rambling commentary on a New York Times article about a 5,500-year-old shoe found in an Armenian cave.

Earlier this week, that same cave was in the news again.

It turns out that that Armenian cave is a perfect time capsule in which prehistoric artifacts have been preserved under layers of sheep dung and a white crust on the cave's limestone walls. Not terribly enticing, except for the fact that these un-glamorous coverings have conserved items that provide a window into life thousands of years before Ipods.

This time archeologists found a complete winemaking operation, estimated to be 6,100 years old. It includes a vat for fermenting, a press, storage jars, a clay bowl and a drinking cup made from an animal horn. They also found grape seeds, dried pressed grapes, stems, shriveled grapevines and residue which, when analyzed, indicates that the early peoples were producing red wine (which I prefer).

The wine press is shallow -- a thick-rimmed 3 by 3 1/2 foot clay basin where people stomped grapes. The basin is positioned so juice would tip into a 2-foot-deep vat.

The elaborate facility would have been used only once a year, when grapes were harvested. Wine must have been important (even then). Some theorize that it was used for ritual purposes, drunk to honor or appease the dead or even sprinkled on graves.

The huge cave with several chambers also contained jars filled with dried fruit -- grapes, prunes, apricots -- and nuts -- walnuts and almonds. In another area, the people had some kind of metallurgical operation where copper was smelted.

These were my kind of people: enjoying red wine, dried apricots and almonds, perhaps wearing some copper jewelry. Actually, they were our kind of people ... not the hulking, grunting primitives we have long thought so inferior. Instead, nice people, and probably excellent hosts.

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