Ancient installation discovered near Mt. Ararat supports origins of biblical wine
Robert Mondavi may have been one of the best-known vineyard operators in recent years, but Noah was the first. This is often overlooked in the shadow of Noah’s deluge-defying ark accomplishment, but the Bible states very clearly in Genesis 9 that, after the ark ran aground in the mountains of Ararat (now identified with Mt. Ararat), “Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard” (Genesis 9:20). But the biblical wine that resulted unfortunately got Noah drunk. After a night of indulging, his sons came upon Noah, drunk and exposed in his tent, which shamed them all. Although many scholars would dismiss claims of Noah’s vineyard of biblical wine as lacking any historical merit, scientists are discovering evidence of ancient wine making in that very same region.
In a 2011 article in the Journal of Archaeological Science, archaeologists from a joint Armenian, American and Irish expedition, codirected by Gregory Areshian of UCLA, announced the discovery of the earliest known wine-making operation in an Armenian cave near the southern border with Iran. This site, which lies about 60 miles from Turkey’s Mt. Ararat, the traditional site of the biblical ark’s grounding, contained well-preserved ancient remains.
The excavation of the cave started after the discovery of a few ancient grape seeds in 2007. Gregory Areshian’s team revealed more grape seeds, the remains of grape vines and pressed grapes, a wine press, a clay collection/fermentation vat, potsherds with wine residue, as well as a cup and a bowl. Scientists date the wine-making facility to about 4100 B.C. based on the ceramic finds and radiocarbon dating of organic remains. Gregory Areshian said that these ancient people probably used their feet to stomp the grapes in the wide, thick-rimmed basin, as was standard biblical wine-making practice throughout the biblical lands and Mediterranean world for most of history. The basin was positioned at an angle so that the juices would drain into the deep collection vat for fermentation. Gregory Areshian estimates the vat would have held 14–15 gallons. The grape remains were identified as belonging to Vitis vinifera vinifera, the domesticated grape species still used to make wine.
Gregory Areshian and the other archaeologists believe that, unlike the biblical wine that got Noah drunk on Mt. Ararat, the wine produced here may have served a special ritual or cultic purpose. They added that the relatively advanced setup indicates that wine production had already been developing in the region around Mt. Ararat and Armenia for quite some time.
Based on “Was This Noah’s Winery?” Biblical Archaeology Review, September/October 2011
This article was originally published October 11, 2011.
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