Even Low-Class Iron Age Celts Sipped Fine Mediterranean Wine
A new study reveals Mediterranean wine was enjoyed by ‘all classes’ of Iron Age Celts 2,700 years ago. Archaeologists excavating at the prehistoric Heuneburg hillfort in southern Germany, just north of the Alps and around 50 miles (80.47 km) downstream from the source of the Danube river, have found evidence of Mediterranean wine drinking on Celtic ceramics . And what’s fascinating in this story is that prior to Heuneburg's elite importing classy Greek drinking pots , the fermented grape juice was being swished by the lower classes in their own home-made vessels.
2,700-Year-Old Story of Celtic Wine Drinkers
The team of researchers, led by Maxime Rageot, post-doctorate researcher at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, published their work in the journal PLOS ONE which detailed their use of ‘Gas chromatography mass spectrometry' (GCMS) techniques. They analyzed organic wine residue found on about 130 ancient ceramics by first separating, then identifying, and finally quantifying a series of complex chemical mixtures: proving people of "all classes” drank Mediterranean wine as much as 2,700 years ago.
Celtic pottery vessels from the Hohmichele mound on display in Stuttgart. ( Public Domain )
To get to that date, the samples from ceramics discovered at the Heuneburg hillfort in Germany, both locally-made Celtic vessels belonging to financially less-fortunate people as well as better made “classier” imported Mediterranean pots , were compared with those from an earlier study. According to an article in The Daily Mail , that earlier analysis of ceramics from the hillfort site of Vix-Mont Lassois in Burgundy, France, led the same team of researchers to conclude that Early Celts had imported “Mediterranean pottery, olive oil and wine around 2,700 years ago.”
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Prehistoric hillfort Heuneburg near Hundersingen, district Sigmaringen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany. (Dietrich Krieger/ CC BY SA 3.0 )
Fine Greek Imports and Local Jugs
The researchers from the University of Tübingen said that while they can provide “important initial insights into complex transformations” over time, they had to speculate that later wine consumption around the late sixth century was restricted to members of Heuneburg's elite. This speculation was based on evidence that over time wine was “solely” drunk from imported ancient Greek pottery as the social elite gained more knowledge of Mediterranean cultures, including their drinking and eating practices.
The Early Celtic Heuneburg settlement in southern Germany was urbanized during the Early Iron Age (7th-5th centuries BC) and became a key power center. And now, the habits of its elites and lower-classes have been revealed through analysis of chemical residue on local Celtic vessels, and “seven imported Greek ceramics ”, which told the researchers where the grapes used to make the wine had originated.
Selection of vessels shapes tested: Imported and local vessels of similar postulated function. ( M. Rageot et al )
Better Glasses for the Higher Classes
Other organic residue sampled from the pottery included compounds that are more often found in fermented fruit beverages. Evidence of foods included “ millet (a grain) and animal fat traces”, according to the study. In conclusion, the researchers determined more evidence of alcoholic drinks in ceramic remains taken from the elite central plateau than from the vessels used in the lower town, suggesting the gap between rich and poor widened as time advanced.
That “advancement” seems to have reached an advanced stage, in that nothing much has changed since then really, for still today at lunchtimes all over the world while politicians, CEOs, and ‘the management’ often enjoy boozy lunches, the ‘workers’ drink tea and eat sandwiches with their shaky energy worn hands.
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Heuneburg’s elite Celtic burials also included rich collections of imported goods to assist their feasting, including the ceramic drinking vessels ; and together they will all help the scientists outline future strategies for lines for inquiry and investigations into the next Early Celtic site to rise from Germany’s ancient hilltops.
Depiction of Iron Age Celts. ( El Blog de “Acebedo” )
Oldest Wine Lovers on the Planet
While the archaeologists and lab workers in Germany retrace the history of wine consumption in the Celtic Iron Age, a 2017 National Geographic article featured a small rise less than 20 miles (32.19 km) south of Tbilisi, Georgia. A clutch of round mud-brick houses in a fertile river valley known as Gadachrili Gora shows the Stone Age farmers who lived here 8,000 years ago were “ grape lovers ”.
And just like in Germany, the analysis of pollen gathered from pottery suggests the wooded hillsides nearby were once “decked with grapevines.” And in a paper published in the journal PNAS the international team of archaeologists conclusively proved that the people of Gadachrili Gora were the world’s earliest known vintners, producing wine on a large scale as early as 6,000 BC.
Top Image: Ceramics in Heuneburg, Germany show Iron Age Celts of all social classes drank Mediterranean wine. Source: 9parusnikov /Adobe Stock
By Ashley Cowie