In a cave complex in Armenia, archaeologists from the University of California have unearthed what they believe is the world's oldest winery, from 6,100 years ago.
Inside the cave, Copper Age vintners are believed to have stomped grapes with their feet, then fermented the juice in huge clay vats, storing it in jars and then drinking it from cups carved from animal horns. That equipment, plus fossilized grape seeds and skins, was still buried there when UCLA archaeologists stumbled into the cave in 2007 and began years of careful digging.
"For the first time, we have a complete archaeological picture of wine production dating back 6,100 years," UCLA archaeologist Gregory Areshian told National Geographic. "This is the earliest, most reliable evidence of wine production."
Even older evidence of wine drinking has been unearthed elsewhere -- wine bottles, cups and corks for instance -- but the Armenian cave is believed to be the oldest known wine-making facility.
A nearby village is still known for its local wine-making, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Nestled in mountains in Armenia's southeast corner, the site is also believed to have been a burial place, suggesting that early wine-making might have been related to funeral proceedings, or dedicated to the dead.
Areshian told the Times that at least eight bodies have been found in the wine-making cave, including a child. Mourners may have sipped wine to honor the dead or appease their spirits, and wine may also have been used to sprinkle on the graves as part of a ritual, he said.
The winery was discovered in the same complex of caves where archaeologists previously uncovered the world's oldest leather shoe, dating from 5,500 years ago. But the winery is even older -- suggesting early humans were making and drinking wine long before they even wore shoes.
Perhaps they had their priorities straight after all.