‘We Almost Froze’: Archaeologists Discover Urn With Oldest Liquid Wine And Cremated Remains

Image not from story (Lummi/Viri Gutiérrez)

John Oyewale Contributor
Font Size:

A team of researchers in southern Spain discovered the oldest known wine in the world in a collection of urns that also contained cremation remains and a gold ring, a study published Sunday read.

The researchers—from the University of Cordoba and Carmona’s Museum of the City—happened upon the approximately two-millennia-old wine when they unearthed a tomb in Carmona in 2019, according to the study.

Rehabilitation work on a house uncovered a shaft by which the archaeologists discovered the chamber of a largely untouched vaulted Roman mausoleum carved in rock, the study revealed.

There were eight niches in the walls of the chamber, six of them holding urns, according to the study. Three urns held the bone ash of females, while the other three held the bone ash of males. The scientists observed the names of the deceased carved in gypsum coating two of the urns: Hispanae and Senicio.

The scientists found that one of three urns holding some of the male’s bone ash “was also filled to the brim with a reddish liquid,” according to the study. Subsequent chemical analysis revealed the liquid to be white wine. The scientists also found a gold ring bearing the image of the Roman god Janus in one of the urns.

The entire find was “rather exceptional and unexpected” and in “exceptionally good conservation conditions,” the scientists wrote. (RELATED: Archaeologists Find Perfectly Preserved Cherries At George Washington’s Estate)

Ancient Roman winemakers discovered that they could use gypsum, common salt and high-sugar cooked musts often obtained from crushed grapes to stabilize and preserve wine — thus solving one of their perennial professional headaches, according to the study.

The unearthed collective tomb was part of the western necropolis of Carmo, an ancient Roman city in Hispanic Baetica, the study revealed. Carmo is now modern Carmona in western Andalusia, Spain.

Unearthing burial complexes during construction work in Carmona was not unusual given that the buried ancient Roman necropolis “is the largest and best conserved on the Iberian Peninsula,” the authors wrote.

The study’s lead author José Rafael Ruiz Arrebola, an organic chemistry professor at the University of Cordoba, told CNN the wine was about 4.5 liters (1.2 gallons).

“When the archaeologists opened the urn we almost froze,” he told the outlet. “It was very surprising.”

A hermetic seal over the urn had ensured the wine did not evaporate, Arrebola reportedly added.

The previous oldest wine on record is believed to be approximately 1,700 years old and was found in Germany, according to the study.

Arrebola and his colleagues also found a sealed jar containing what was likely patchouli, according to their separate, May 2023 paper detailing the find. They were potentially the first on record to find a perfume from the Roman period.