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Quest for decent red began 6,000 years ago

YEREVAN, Armenia, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Near an Armenian village still known for its winemaking prowess, archaeologists said they discovered a large vat and grape press more than 6,000 years old.

Scientists said the operation is the earliest known grape winemaking site worldwide, The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

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The wine made in the Areni cave complex seemed to be tied to burial rituals -- not "used at the end of the day to unwind" -- because of the numerous graves found nearby, Gregory Areshian, an archaeologist and co-director of the dig, told The Washington Post.

"This is the oldest confirmed example of winemaking by a thousand years," Areshian said. "People were making wine here well before there were pharaohs in Egypt."

Areshian, assistant director of the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, said the discovery, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science and released Tuesday, indicates residents were settled and relatively sophisticated at least 6,000 years ago.

While researchers usually turn to Egypt and Mesopotamia to understand ancient civilization, Areshian said "there were many, many specialized and unique centers of civilization in the ancient world, and we can only understand it as a mosaic of these peoples."

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Setting up vineyards with the domesticated and high-yielding Vitis vinifera -- the hybrid grape still used in modern wine-making -- is a significant advance and considered more complex than beer-making from the grains in the fertile lowlands, researchers said.

The shape and location of the wine press indicates people stamped the grapes with their feet and collected the wine in fermentation jars placed below to capture the liquid, Areshian said.

"For this time and period, it is a very surprising discovery of advanced large-scale wine production," biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, told the Journal. He was not involved in the project.

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