The history of viticulture and biotechnology in ancient ArmeniaPrepared by Dr. Armen Mehrabyan,Yerevam, Armenia,September 14, 2006,PrefaceSeveral ethno-botanical and biology-archeological researches registered that the Middle-East center is thestarting point for Euro-Mediterranean agriculture. Wild species which already existed in this part of theworld were pre-domesticated over a large area centered on « the Fertile Crescent », between the Euphratesand the Tigris Rivers (Mesopotamia), and were later established in Mediterranean countries andEurope. The diffusion of plants into Europe can be traced and dated from East to West. Agriculture reachedCentral Europe respectively through the Mediterranean Sea or the Danube River, between -5.200 and -4.000years ago.Grape, as a one of the main plant that were used from prehistoric time (Vitis sylvestris, Vitaceae) areindigenous to the south Caspian belt of Historical Armenia (modern Turkey and Iran) and the Balkans, andwere widely distributed in the northern Mediterranean area including the Black and Caspian Seas1. Wildgrapes are dioeciously, perennial, forest vines and thrive in cooler and more humid conditions than doolives. Harvest of wild grapes long preceded domestication, as evidenced by carbonized seed in numerousprehistoric sites in Armenia (Karmir Blur of Urartu). Presence of the wine grape in the Near East is datedas early as the 8th millennia BCE but eastward expansion was limited by lack of winter hardiness and pooradaptation to high summer rainfall. Toward 5000 BCE, and perhaps earlier, the domestic grape, V.vinifera, migrated from Armenian marshland (Anatolia) to Syria and thence to Palestine. Signs of BronzeAge domestication are found in Mesopotamia, Armenia, Palestine, Syria, Egypt, and the Aegean. By the2nd millennium BCE there is evidence of vessels for wine storage as well as of raisins. A number of grapespecies are found in the New World and these types were domesticated after the European encounter withAmerica2.Two native varieties of grape VOSKEHAT and GARAN DMAK remains from ancient.The culture of cultivation of the grape domestication in Armenia is dated from 4500-4000 BC and Armeniamentioned as the one of the native places of Vitis finifera spp.Silvestris3. Another archeological researchconfirm, that Urartians were a one of the first wheat cultivators4 and winemakers and grape seeds1 Zohary and Spiegel Roy 1975; Smartt and Simmonds 1995; Reisch and Pratt 19962 Reisch and Pratt 19963 Van Loon N.M.Mureybit, “An Early Village in Inland Siria”, NY 1996, “Archeology” v.194 The first information about cultivation of plants is known from Egyptian scripts and the basic cultivation tools described werethe ax, the hoe and the plow. Sowing followed plowing. Often the sewer scattered seed in front of the plough, so that the oxentreaded it in while fine seed as flax was shaken directly into the furrows. And the first un-plowing seedling system or naturalmultiplication we can found from the history of horticulture of Urartian ( Dr.Piotrovski, Dr.babilov, Dr.Grosgeym, etc). It wasfound that the first multiplication of the wild wheat has an objective to make easy it’s harvesting and made by broadcasting theselected healthy seeds into the soil without plowing. This simple technology was the reason of settled population formation.
discovered from the wine “karas” from Karmir Blur are dated 2500 BC. And on that time only Kings orQueens can own the “aygi”, which means grape plantation. 5VOSKEHAT varieties translated as VOSKI – golden and HAT – berries, it means golden berries and whichwas called also KHARJI (Persian) and GARAN DMAK - GAR –means small lamb and DMAK – tail,because its looks like lamb tail. Both of those varieties were created and widespread by Urartian6. It issuggested that in the territory of ancient Armenia discovered more then 600 aborigine species of vine7.It is already accepted that King of Urartu Rusa II ordered to established special grape plantation of withusing of VOSKEHAT, GARAN DMAK and NAZELI (kishmish) near to the capital of Urartu, to made aunbelievable semi sweet wine for Rusa Kingdom’s guests8.First written text about vine plant mentioned in Gilgamesh and in Eder papyrus and then after about vinementioned in the History of Noah’s Arch in Bible.About Armenian varieties of grape and in general about vine culture was mentioned in a several manuscriptsby historians such as Dioscarides, Ksenophon , etc.Since the Paleolithic period up to Middle Ages the lives of the grape in Armenia, symbolized the healthylife style and were used as an ornament for monuments symbolizing Armenian identity of culture9.Grapes were preserved in two ways. The simplest was sun drying, and the dried fruit (raisins) were prizedfor their concentrated sweetness, and long term storage. The transformation of grape juice to wine occursalmost naturally but requires anaerobic conditions. The fermentation of juice into wine was probably basedon beer technology, an older practice. The culture of grapes (viticulture) and the technology of wine making(enology) are common themes in biblical writings, and became infused in Judaism (Walsh 2000) andChristianity, although drunkenness was frowned upon. Wine was the beverage of choice in ancient world,particularly, Armenia, Greece and Rome. Wine is prohibited in Islam but grapes and raisins are highlyprized. At present wine is the major use of grapes, far surpassing table grapes and raisins.Bread and Wine are mother of BiotechnologyThe beginnings of biotechnology are directly traced to the manufacture of bread and wine. The harvest,threshing, grinding of grain to flour and subsequent sieving are abundantly illustrated. Grinding of grainwas handled with a hand mill called a saddle quern by the housewife, but eventually grinding was carriedout on a large scale by millers. Fermentation by the use of leaven, a mass of yeast, was a development thatchanged the making of bread. By 1200 BCE, over 30 different forms of bread and cakes were mentioned.Alcoholic fermentation was carried out in pots with bread or flour to make beer, or with sugary fruitjuices, particularly grape but also dates and pomegranates, to make wine, or with honey to make mead.Wine is specified as early as the first dynasty and was associated with Horus, the falcon-headed god, son5 G.Gapansyan, “The history of Urartu”, Yerevan, 19206 Dr.Piotrovsky, “Vanskoe Tsarstvo”, 1948, p.1427 A.Avagyan, “Prefection of the history of viticulture in Armenia”, Yerevan, 20058 I.Shopen, “The historical monuments of ancient Armenia”, St.Petersburg, 18529 Ghevond Alishan, “Ararat’s nature land of Armenia”, Venice, 1890
of Isis, the Great Mother, loyal sister and wife of Osiris, god of the beneficent Nile. The first Pharaohcalled his vineyard "The Enclosure of the Beverage of the Body of Horus" resonating with the subsequentrelation of wine to the blood of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. About 1200-1500 BCE the complete winemaking process is illustrated, beginning with grape harvest from arbors, treading by workers maintainingtheir balance by holding hanging cords attached to a frame, and the squeezing of the sediment collected incloth bags, with fermentation carried out in jars (amphorae). After fermentation wine vessels were sealedwith plugs of straw and clay designed to prevent bursting from gas accumulation, and impressed withofficial stamps containing the year of the king’s rule, the district, the town, and the name of the wine.Wines were mixed by siphoning. Taxes were levied on imported and exported wine. By the Graeco-Roman periods there were literally hundreds of wine types from grapes indicating intense geneticselection.