Jars recovered from the ocean reveal the secrets of ancient Roman wine

(ORDO NEWS) — Local grapes and imported resin may have been the norm for vintners along the Italian coast during the Roman period, judging by jars found in the ocean near the harbor of San Felice Circeo.

Three different wine jugs, or amphoras, have been found and analyzed, providing researchers with a useful insight into wine-making practices in this particular region during the 1st-2nd century BC, within the Late Greco-Italian period.

What makes this study particularly noteworthy is that it combines some of the latest methods of chemical analysis with other approaches used in archaeobotany to learn more about these jars than would otherwise be possible.

“Three marine amphora recovered in 2018 from the ancient site of San Felice Circeo (Italy) provided a rare opportunity to advance interdisciplinary research through archaeobotanical and chemical analyses,” the researchers wrote in the published paper.

One of the laboratory techniques used here was a combination of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, various methods of separation and identification of chemical markers in the material – in this case, based on organic residues left in the jugs.

The researchers also looked for pollen trapped in these remains. Similar analysis has been done before, but not often on jars like these, and rarely to understand the wider historical context of the artifact.

Careful examination of grapevine pollen has shown that jars were used to make both red and white wine, and that native plants were used – although it is not clear if these plants were domesticated at the time.

Meanwhile, traces of pine indicate that it was used to waterproof jars, and possibly also to flavor wine. According to the researchers, the resin, which included pine, could have been obtained from outside the region, possibly from Calabria or Sicily.

“The presence of both pollen and charcoal allowed for a better understanding of the origin of the resin, something that cannot be achieved through analysis of organic residues alone,” the researchers write.

Finds in the harbor area of ​​San Felice Circeo, located about 90 kilometers (56 miles) southeast of Rome, include many other pottery and artifacts. Archaeologists believe that this area could be located next to the Roman canal.

Although the researchers cannot be sure of all the conclusions they reached during their study, they were able to go further thanks to a number of interdisciplinary methods used to study the chemical composition of what was left in these jugs.

This means combining chemical and botanical knowledge with other historical and archaeological records, as well as previous research on similar wine jugs – going beyond chemical analysis to explore the surrounding history of artifacts.

“By using different approaches to unravel the content and nature of the Roman amphorae plating, we have taken the findings further in our understanding of the ancient practice than would have been the case using a single approach,” the researchers say.


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