Skeletal remains found in world’s oldest wine

Published Jun 26, 2024


Researchers from the University of Córdoba have uncovered the world’s oldest wine, dating back over 2,000 years, in a Roman tomb in Carmona, Andalusia.

According to Science Daily, the discovery not only “redefines our understanding of ancient viticulture, but also sheds light on ancient Roman funerary customs”.

In 2019, a team led by Gerard Talavera discovered six skeletal remains in a Roman tomb, including those of Hispana and Senecio. One man’s remains were immersed in a reddish liquid inside a glass urn, which a team from the Department of Organic Chemistry at the University of Córdoba, in collaboration with the City of Carmona, later identified as wine.

Juan Manuel Román, municipal archaeologist for the City of Carmona, noted the exceptional preservation of the tomb, stating, “At first we were very surprised that liquid was preserved in one of the funerary urns”.

The tomb's intact and well-sealed condition prevented any external contamination, preserving the wine for centuries.

To confirm the liquid's identity, researchers conducted a series of chemical analyses at the UCO’s Central Research Support Service (SCAI). They examined pH levels, mineral salts, and compared the liquid to modern Montilla-Moriles, Jerez, and Sanlúcar wines.

Key to the identification were polyphenols, which are biomarkers present in all wines. Seven specific polyphenols matched those found in contemporary Andalusian wines, confirming the liquid as wine. Additionally, the absence of syringic acid indicated the wine was white, though its absence might be due to degradation over time.

Professor José Rafael Ruiz Arrebola, who led the study, explained: "The absence of syringic acid and the presence of other polyphenols confirm this was white wine, aligning with historical and archaeological sources."

Interestingly, the discovery also provided insight into gender roles in ancient Roman funerary practices. The man's remains were immersed in wine, a drink reserved for men in Roman society, while the woman's urn contained amber jewels, perfume, and fabric remnants.

These artefacts highlight the gender divisions of the time, with wine and other trousseau items intended to accompany the deceased into the afterlife.

This finding highlights the potential of advanced scientific techniques in archaeology. Dr Bataille of the University of Ottawa remarked: “It is the first time that this combination of molecular techniques is tested on ancient liquids. The results are very promising and transferable to many other archaeological contexts.”