The origins of different agricultural products and evidence of the oldest use of resources are popular research topics – especially now when different scientific methods allow studying DNA and chemical composition of different matters. Considering it is the holiday season different alcoholic beverages are always popular news items and the evidence of oldest beer or wine production normally has worldwide exposure.
Beer seems to be less studied subject but wine studies crop up in the newspapers and Internet every now and then. This is partly due to the fact that wild wine plant is indigenous in many of the modern wine production areas where the companies have funded some of the research. Wine also has religious meaning being shared in the most important communal ritual in Christianity. It was also consumed by the great civilisations in the Mediterranean.
The University of Siena has been involved in studying the wild wines and the derivates in central Italy in Tuscany and northern Lazio. Ethnological work has also been carried out in Campania. Archaeologists have been involved in the projects in Tuscany and neighbouring areas. The scientists have compared the DNA make up of the plants at different locations to the existence of different archaeological sites in the area. ArcheoVino project has plotted the distributions in the Albegna river valley (Zifferero 2010), whereas Vinum project has managed to spot a difference in the characteristics of the plants near the Etruscan sites in comparison with the plants lying ‘in the wild’ (Giannace 2010). The autochthonous grapevine varieties helps to understand the past wine production and perhaps make people curious about the local grape varieties so that the rarer wines produced from the grapes nearer the original exploited wild versions do not vanish.
Ulla Rajala offered the 'In vino veritas: the history and archaeology of wine' course in Madingley Hall, Institute of Continuing Education, Cambridge the last weekend of January, January 25-27. More details from the ICE web site.