Tracing the Vine; Wine in Antiquity

Wine is an alcoholic beverage, made by the fermentation of fruits, most commonly grapes. In ancient Eurasian societies, it was seen as a ‘civilized’ drink by the poor and rich alike. In Rome for example, wine was seen as a form of virtue or civility, where philosophers create sayings associating these values with it (Phillips, 2011). Religion has also played a great part in spreading the popularity of wine in their time, and helped it maintain its relevance to this day. Whole civilizations began to incorporate it in their various religions (figure 1), and it has been referenced in many books such as the Quran and Bible which implemented many religious practices still in use, showing the extensive influence that wine has had in the past and how it is now. 

DIONYSOS (Dionysus) Greek God of Wine and Festivity. From Palla C4th BC Pella Archaeological Museum

Archeologists attempting to search for traces of wine use a combination of many different fields of science. The residue of compounds commonly produced and/or used in the production of wine at the time were found in jars that were discovered decades earlier. But there is some difficulty in completely identifying if the deposits were actually from wine and/or alcohol by only using this method, since fruit juices and vinegar also produce these compounds due to aging, and not with the intention of making wine. To solve this problem, Léa Drieu, a postdoctoral fellow and chemist at the University of York developed a new method of organic residue analysis in order to confirm any chemical fingerprint of wine on ancient amphorae/pottery (figure 2). Specifically, the method analyzes the ratio of two compounds, tartaric and malic acid, in grapes vs other fruits and liquids, through which she determined that the ratio of these compounds differ in grape products compared to others(Montanari 2021). Through her discovery, Dr. Drieu was able to figure out that wine had been traded by Sicily (a winemaking island) to Christian ports while under Islamic control between the 5th and 11th centuries, highlighting its importance as a commodity even during regime changes. (Montanari 2021)


People have been drinking wine for a very long time, with its presence eventually being incorporated in all manner of cultures and religions. This means that archeologists will continue to discover more traces of wine and similar beverages, because they are unquestionably a part of the human past. 



Malin, Joshua, and Julie Tremaine. 2014. “10 Famous Ancient Archaeological Wine Discoveries.” VinePair, August 17, 2014.

Montanari, Shaena. 2021. “How Scientists and Archeologists Trace Beer and Wine through Antiquity.” Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Phillips, Rod. 2011. “Ancient Wine: Then and Now – Rod Phillips – Articles.” GuildSomm, October 20, 2011.


Further Readings: 

Receding water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers reveal artifacts, sites and a 3,400 year old city.

The Tigris and Euphrates rivers have existed for as long as we can remember, with their names found in many historical texts of the past, even mentioned in prophecies of the future. The Tigris river runs parallel to the Euphrates River, eventually joining and flowing into the Persian Gulf in the lowlands in an area known as Shatt Al-Arab (Sweeney, 2022). These two rivers, along with river Nile of northeastern Africa supply the Fertile Crescent, which is a rich soil area of the Middle East, and the cradle of civilization. Both rivers are also known for their relation to Mesopotamia (a land between two rivers, namely Tigris and Euphrates), which is located in the Fertile Crescent (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Map of the Fertile Crescent. via Getty Images.








These rivers are referenced in books like the Bible and Hadith during the creation of all things, and are even included in prophecies about the end of time, which gives testament to their longevity. But for the past few years, the great rivers Tigris and Euphrates of the Middle East are experiencing one of their lowest levels in history, with the threat of them both running completely dry within two decades due to human activity and climate change (figures 2). (Cheeseman, 2021)

Figure 2: An aerial view of the Tigris river.  via Jordan News, 2022.








Nevertheless, the drought arrived with some benefits, especially in the realm of archeology. Many artifacts are being unearthed from both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, which are dating back thousands of years, most notably a 3,400 year old city. This settlement emerged from the waters of the Tigris river, specifically the Mosul reservoir, which is located in northern Iraq (once known as Saddam Dam) earlier this year as the water levels dropped due to the extreme drought present in the area. Archeologists discovered sites and artifacts dating back to the Mittani Empire era of the Bronze Age, specifically between 1550 and 1350 BC, and that the urban center containing large buildings and palaces could be an ancient city called Zahiku. (Golder et al., 2022) The Mittani Empire was once a very prosperous nation, comparable to the likes of Assyria, Egypt and Babylon, and ruled over the northern Euphrates-Tigris region and stretched from present-day northern Iraq, through Syria and into Turkey. (Mark et al., 2021).

A class-based hierarchy existed in this kingdom, with the ruling class known as Maryannu. Their downfall was caused by the invasion and subsequent occupation of these neighboring kingdoms who sought to break their hold on their extensive trade routes. Due to fear of rising water levels in the dam once more, archeologists quickly mapped the city (figure 3), which was “astonishingly well preserved” despite being made of unfired clay, and survived more than 40 years of being underwater (UNIVERSITY OF TÜBINGEN, 2022). The city found in Mosul Dam was destroyed by an earthquake at around 1350 BC, and eventually submerged due to the rising water levels resulting from the construction of the dam in the 1980s (Tarzi, 2022).

Figure 3: Archeology at the Mosul Dam, Tigris River. via UNIVERSITY OF TÜBINGEN.

On the Euphrates side of things, the receding waters have uncovered more than 80 historical sites that included jails and cemeteries belonging to an ancient city of Telbas, which date back to before Christ. According to Shafaqna Persian (2022) Telbas prison (figure 4) is actually a collection of graves belonging to the Assyrian period.

Figure 5: “Telbas Prison”: The tombs of the Assyrian period. via Shafaqna Persian. 

Even as the rivers are at threat of disappearing, they are still providing. At the threat of disappearing we are still being given valuable resources. If the water levels of these two rivers continue to lower, we will continue to find more historical artifacts and sites that bring a different value to the world, but at a great cost. 

Further Readings: 

Cradle of civilization

History of Tigris and Euphrates

Era of the Mittani Empire

Dropping water levels reveal new archeological sites, artifacts in Euphrates, Tigris rivers


Cheeseman, Abbie. 2021. “Iraq’s mighty rivers Tigris and Euphrates ‘will soon run dry.’” The Times.

Golder, Joseph, Newt Gingrich, Michael Medved, Daniel R. DePetris, and Josh Hammer. 2022. “Archaeologists Rush to Investigate 3,400-Year-Old City Emerging From Tigris River.” Newsweek.

Mark, Joshua J., Simeon Netchev, and Gwendolyn Leick. 2021. “Mitanni.” World History Encyclopedia.

Recker, Jane. 2022. “Drought in Iraq Reveals 3,400-Year-Old City | Smart News.” Smithsonian Magazine.

Shafaqna Persian. 2022. “Iraq: Lowering Euphrates water level reveals underwater ancient areas.” International Shia News Agency.

Sweeney, Jane. 2022. “Tigris River.” National Geographic Society.

Tarzi, Nazli. 2022. “Zakhiku, Iraq’s ‘Atlantis on the Tigris’ revealed by drought.” The New Arab.

UNIVERSITY OF TÜBINGEN. 2022. “A 3400-year-old city emerges from the Tigris River | University of Tübingen.” Uni Tübingen.