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Secrets of Roman winemaking revealed

A combination of chemical markers, plant tissue residue, and pollen provided evidence of grape derivatives and pine within the jars.

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Close up of wine pouring into glass outdoors
(Altrendo Images via Shutterstock)

By Stephen Beech via SWNS

The secrets of Roman winemaking have been revealed by a high-tech new study of jars found underwater.

Researchers discovered that in coastal Italy during the Roman period wine was made using native grapes in jars waterproofed with imported tar pitch.

The team examined three Roman period amphorae from a seabed deposit near the modern harbor of San Felice Circeo, south east of Rome.

A combination of chemical markers, plant tissue residue, and pollen provided evidence of grape derivatives and pine within the jars.

Study lead author Louise Chassouant, of Avignon University said: "The evidence suggests the amphorae were used in both red and white winemaking processes, while the pine was used to create tar for waterproofing the jars and perhaps also flavoring the wine, as has been observed at similar archaeological sites.

"The grapevine pollen matches wild species from the area, suggesting these winemakers were using local plants, although it remains unclear whether these were domesticated at the time.

"The pine tar, on the other hand, is non-local, and was likely imported from Calabria or Sicily based on other historical sources."

The research team emphasized the importance of the multidisciplinary approach to characterize cultural practices from archaeological artifacts.

Chassouant said the identification of plant remains, chemical analysis, historical and archaeological records, amphorae design, and previous findings all contributed to the conclusions of the analysis, providing an example of methodology for interpreting a history beyond the artifacts which would not be possible using a single technique.

She added: “If there was a message to be retained from the reading of this article, it would be related to the multidisciplinary methodology to be applied.

"Indeed, by using different approaches to unravel the content and nature of the coating layer of Roman amphorae, we have pushed the conclusion further in the understanding of ancient practices than it would have been with a single approach.”

The findings were published in the journal PLOS One.

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