Allegrini 2018

Archeology in Valpolicella: the first traces of grapes date back to the Neolithic Age

The excavation campaign findings at the prehistoric site in Colombare di Villa (Negrar): did they make wine?

The origins of the vine, and consequently of the grape, date back to almost 200 million years ago, when the oldest fossils of the “Ampelidee” genus were found in the Caucasus. The cultivation of the vine and subsequently winemaking is of course much more recent, beginning around 4.000 BC in Mesopotamia. Then, the Greeks, followed by the Romans, spreading first through Europe and then the discoveries of and colonizing the most remote lands; that is, the New and the Very New Worlds, namely the Americas and Oceania. There are traces of grapes that have been found even before these dates. The oldest grape in Valpolicella, for instance, is 6.300 years old, and comes from the prehistoric site at Colombare di Villa, in Negrar di Valpolicella. Plus, the site had been inhabited between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, as reported from the findings at the excavation sites conducted by the Department of Cultural and Environmental Heritage of the University of Milan (that began in 2019), in collaboration with the Superintendence of Archeology of Verona, Rovigo and Vicenza and the Municipality of Negrar di Valpolicella, directed by Umberto Tecchiati, professor of Prehistory and Prehistoric Ecology at the University of Milan.

The discovery of vine pollen and grape seeds in the most ancient archaeological layers confirmed that the plant, although probably in the wild, must have been cared for in this area of ​​the Lessini Mountains as early as 6.300 years ago, in the early Neolithic Age. Various samples have been taken from the archaeological layers, such as soil, animal bones, plant micro and macrorests. The palynological, archaeobotanical and zoo archaeological researches have confirmed that farmers, who cultivated grains and raised animals, inhabited the Colombare di Villa site. The excavation staff intends to continue the laboratory analyzes, this time especially regarding the remains of ceramic containers, looking specifically for traces of wine, to obtain confirmation on the possible continuity of production activities over the millennia - considering that Valpolicella is today one of the most important wine-growing sectors in Italy. It would seem that wine was being produced even in prehistoric times, but confirming that the grapes at the Colombare site, which were definitely consumed were also transformed into wine will be possible as the excavations continue. The results from the latest laboratory analyzes were added to those from the stratigraphic excavation and topographic surveys carried out during the 2021 excavation campaign, concluded at the end of September, after 6 weeks of research. The findings confirmed there had been a constant presence for a very long period of time, 3.000 years, and also confirmed the fundamental importance of the production center in the Lessini area, then and now.

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