NOTES OF WINE SINCE THE 4TH MILLENNIUM B.C. AND THE EVIDENCE FROM ERIMI / PART 2 OF 3
The history of Cypriot wine can be told in many ways: we have chosen that of the pottery typology, because, going back in the centuries we ﬁnd that in Cyprus some of the most ancient ceramic shapes are linked to the making, preservation and consumption of wine. We will start from the hypothesis that wine was more ancient than the invention of pottery and that the ﬁrst container used to store and transport wine has been the wineskin.
Wineskins, mentioned and represented in the entire mythological and iconographic ancient Mediterranean repertoire, are containers of safe and easy handling, used in Europe, the Mediterranean and Cyprus until few years ago for the transportation of wine. Hung on the kitchen wall for temporary store, it supplied a quick disposal of wine for domestic use. Moreover, its shape and dimension depended on many factors often linked to the size of the animals. The largest containers were made using the entire skin of the animal, trying to maintain the dimensions as much as possible, knotting the skin at legs and tail. The opening of the neck served to pour the wine and it was closed by the same rope used for hanging it on the wall. It is interesting to notice that the Greek word for wineskin in “askos”, a word attributed in the archaeological dictionary to vases of modest dimensions and animal shaped or adorned by animal heads, probably in memory of the original wineskin used to serve wine.
The transition from wineskin to a clay container may have faced many diﬃculties, because the wine is a living liquid, in continuous transformation, especially when it is freshly made. It is well known that if the fermentation is still in process, the container cannot be closed. In turn, when the fermentation is over, the wine has to be preserved from contact with the air otherwise it will change into vinegar.
So gradually the standard simple jars used for every domestic purpose during the Neolithic period took up a speciﬁc shape, adapted to store wine. Firstly, the neck of the vase became narrower and with a hole mouth to facilitate the corking and the possibility to cover the liquid with olive oil or resin in order to prevent its oxygenation. Secondly, the vase took up an elongated shape, with a pointed base, which served to collect the wine sediments at the bottom. If we compare the shape of Hajji Firuz’s (Iran) vase (considered the most ancient wine jar, ca. 5500 BC), with the later Egyptian and the Godin Tepe wine jars, we can observe the evolution of shape that eventually developed into the Roman amphora with the characteristic pointed base.
Until the exhibition organised at Nicosia in 2005 “Cyprus in the Prehistory of wine”, little attention has been paid to the shape of the Chalcolithic jars found at Erimi by Porﬁrios Dikaios in 1932-1935, during the excavations at Bamboula. The Erimi egg shaped jars have a long narrow neck and a nipple base very similar to the late Greek- Roman jars, but their chronology goes back the 3000 BC (pic. 64). This chronology excludes that they could be a direct evolution of the later Egyptian jars, because the most ancient Egyptian jars have handles, absent both on the Erimi and the Hajji Firuz jars, and on the Godin Tepe (3200 BC) types as well. But until today the traditional cypriote “pithari” for wine had no handles (pic.65).
Furthermore in April 2005, an analytical program to examine the possible deposit remains at the bottom of jars was organised in Cyprus, in order to prove that the Erimi jars have been intentionally made to store wine. Luckily, most of the pottery fragments excavated by Dikaios were still unwashed, conserved in their original boxes from 1935 at the storage room of the Limassol Archaeological Museum. Samples from 18 fragmentary bases have been scratched and analysed directly in the laboratories of Limassol and Nicosia Museums. The results demonstrated that 12 jars bottoms contained a large amount of tartaric acid (a characteristic acid of wine), while 6 contained only traces of the same acid (see hereby Lentini). It was evident that the Chalcolithic pointed jars from Erimi have been used to process wine, positioning them at the beginning of the evolution of the wine amphora typology.
Wine fermented and aged in amphorae is still produced in Sicily, according to the Biodynamic system, using terracotta amphora of 250 to 400 liters, without the use of selected yeasts. An example is the wine Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOC of “Pithos, Cerasuolo farm COS of Vittoria (Ragusa). The same system is still used today in Georgia, where terracotta jars called kvevri are buried under the ﬂoor, covered only by a slab of stone as in the old Cypriot tradition. Georgian tradition has more in common with Cyprus, as the wine is still drunk in horns named “kantsi” (embroidered deer, bull or goat horn passed around the table), and the grapes must is used to produce shoushouko necklaces, as in Cyprus.
In the archaeological typology the pottery associated with wine relates to the traditional paraphernalia for the famous Greek symposium, where men used to gather and spend time together drinking wine. In prehistoric times, the common vessel to drink wine was the horn of goat or cattle. The horn cut at the base, empty and cleaned inside was perhaps the most ancient vase used to drink wine. The perishability of horns however, contributed to leave scarce traces of their use in the archaeological contexts. Moreover, from etymology studies we know that the word ceramic (pottery), which identiﬁes the objects made of ﬁred clay, probably originate from the Greek word “Keras”, which means horn, as recently reaﬃrmed by S. Seal and M.I. Baraton (“Toward Applications of Ceramic Nano structures”, MRS Bulletin January 2004).: “The word ceramics comes from the Greek keras, horn. In prehistoric times horns were used as containers; later ceramic containers made of clay were used to store food, water, wine, oil. Ceramic describes the working of the clay. The hardening of the clay under the hot desert sun may have given our ancestors the idea that clay would harden even more if subjected to ﬁring. It was the right understanding, and since then ceramics have been part of human civilization”.
Moreover, in Cyprus at the beginning of Early Bronze Age, a special horn shaped vase appeared in the pottery repertoire, often present as funerary good in many tombs of the island.
The restitution of the drinking horns in ceramics, copying the real dimension and shape of the horn is an exclusive Cypriote product, characteristic of the very beginning of II millennium BC (Lentini results hereby). Contemporary, in the Middle East civilizations we ﬁnd the Rhyta, which were drinking horns (sometimes with an animal horned head) too, made in terracotta or metal.
Cone-shaped ceramic vessels (cornets) characteristic of the Chalcolithic period (4700-3700 BC) have been found in Israel and Jordan (Namdar, Dvory, Neumann, Ronny, Goren, Yuval and Weiner, Steve , “The contents of unusual cone-shaped vessels (cornets) from the Chalcolithic of the southern Levant”, Journal of Archaeological Science 36 (2009), pp.629-636). In the Late Bronze Age the drinking horn (clay) was transformed into a conical vase, similar to the so called Mycenaean Rhyton, which is a characteristic Mycenaean vase, whose shape was probably inﬂuenced by the Egyptian type, furnished by a side handle. Later, from the symposium scenes represented on the Attic vases and on the walls of the Etruscan tombs, we know that the use of the cattle horns to drink wine widely continued. But we have evidence that the horns to drink wine did not pass out of fashion in the following periods and that the Romans spread its use to the Northern European countries together with their conquests.
Thanks to them we ﬁnd today the tradition of drinking wine using the bullhorns in all European countries, including Georgia and Russia. However it is possible that the European tradition is linked with the Celtic culture which is believed to have been inﬂuenced by the Etruscans before the Romans.
Dr. Maria Rosaria Belgiorno
CNR – Institute for Technologies Applied to Cultural Heritage, Rome – Italy