Oldest Record of Wine Drinking in Americas Unearthed on a Petite Caribbean Isle

by Tatsuya Nakamura
6 comments
Earliest Wine Consumption Americas

Evidence marking the earliest known instance of wine consumption in the Americas has been discovered by scientists in ceramic fragments unearthed from a small Caribbean island.

This pioneering research delves into the historical culinary customs of the region, with the findings indicating a fondness for barbequed proteins among the native communities, as suggested by the lack of fish remains in the excavated ceramics. The researchers used advanced molecular analysis techniques on 15th-century pottery, specifically from the Puerto Rican area. The image presented above captures an artist’s interpretation of this earliest proof of wine-drinking.

The research team located the earliest verifiable evidence of wine-drinking in the Americas from ceramic artifacts recovered from a diminutive Caribbean island. The team examined forty ceramic shards, employing molecular analysis techniques like Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry to investigate the pottery from the Puerto Rico region, dated back to the 15th century.

The focus of this study was the artifacts from Isla de Mona, located between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The findings, published in Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, provide an understanding of changes in diet and cultural exchanges in the Greater Antilles, both before and after the advent of Europeans.

Spanish Olive Jar Unveils Ancient Wine Consumption

Dr. Lisa Briggs from the British Museum and Cranfield University led the research, in collaboration with the University of Leicester.

Among the objects analyzed were fragments from a Spanish olive jar dating back to between 1490 and 1520 AD. The distinctive rounded design of the jar corresponds to the era when Columbus first mentioned the existence of the island in his diary in 1494. The jar was a general-use container for various foods and liquids during sea voyages, and the analysis revealed remnants of wine.

According to the researchers, “Whether consumed by Europeans or the indigenous population, this signifies direct evidence for the importation and drinking of European wine on a small Caribbean island shortly after the Spanish colonialists’ arrival.”

A Taste of Fusion Food Half a Millennium Ago

Despite the conquest of the indigenous population, the early generations of Spanish colonists maintained the local tradition of barbequing, while introducing European wine-drinking customs.

Researchers believe that the Taino community, indigenous to this Caribbean region, regularly employed barbequing, a tradition that was adopted by the colonizers. Given the lack of large mammals on these islands, the indigenous people likely barbequed hutiers, a type of large rodent, and iguanas.

The term ‘barbeque’ has its roots in ‘Barbacoa’ – a word used by the Taino people. Indigenous people in this region grilled fish and meat over a charcoal fire on a raised grill. The researchers suggest that this formed a fusion of food and drink traditions, coming together centuries ago.

Dr. Briggs commented on the finding, “Two culinary worlds collided in the Caribbean over 500 years ago, due to the impositions of early Spanish colonialists. We knew little about the culinary heritage of this region and the influence of early colonialists on food traditions, so these revelations have been truly exciting.”

Local Culinary Customs Resilient Amid Colonial Rule

Upon excavation last year, the British Museum’s scientists found numerous fish and meat bones scattered around the site but importantly, none inside cooking pots. There was no indication of the ceramics being used for dairy or meat products.

This evidence suggests that despite the arrival of European colonists with their glazed ceramics and olive jars, the indigenous people continued their culinary traditions, maintaining their traditional methods of cooking proteins on a raised grill over charcoal and preparing vegetable dishes in ceramic pots.

“This gives an interesting perspective into the culinary exchange on the island. Traditional foodways were upheld even after European colonists arrived with their own culinary customs and pottery,” say the researchers. “The absence of dairy product residues in our samples further points to the Europeans quickly adopting and relying on indigenous culinary traditions.”

This study has implications for understanding the culinary traditions far removed from the contemporary European preference for stews and casseroles, as the cooking pots from the era often contain remnants of meat.

Reference: “Molecular evidence for new foodways in the early colonial Caribbean: organic residue analysis at Isla de Mona, Puerto Rico” by Lisa Briggs, Jago Cooper, Oliver E. Craig, Carl Heron, Alexandre Lucquin, María Mercedes Martínez Milantchi, and Alice Samson, 3 May 2023, Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences.
DOI: 10.1007/s12520-023-01771-y

The Wellcome Trust funded the study.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Earliest Wine Consumption Americas

Where was the earliest evidence of wine consumption in the Americas discovered?

The earliest evidence of wine consumption in the Americas was discovered on a small Caribbean island within pottery vessels dated back to the 15th century.

What does the absence of fish in the unearthed ceramics suggest?

The absence of fish in the unearthed ceramics suggests a preference for barbequing proteins among the indigenous communities in the Caribbean.

What method was used to analyze the pottery vessels?

Advanced molecular analysis techniques like Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry were used to analyze the pottery vessels.

What does the research indicate about the culinary practices of the indigenous people?

The research indicates that the indigenous people continued their traditional methods of cooking proteins on a raised grill over charcoal and preparing vegetable dishes in ceramic pots. These culinary traditions were upheld even after the arrival of European colonists.

Who led this study?

The study was led by Dr. Lisa Briggs, a Visiting Researcher at the British Museum and 75th Anniversary Research Fellow at Cranfield University, in collaboration with the University of Leicester.

What does the term ‘barbeque’ originate from?

The term ‘barbeque’ originates from ‘Barbacoa’ – a word used by the Taino people, indigenous to the Caribbean region.

Who funded this study?

This study was funded by the Wellcome Trust.

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6 comments

HistoryBuff1962 July 17, 2023 - 11:44 am

fascinating read. Didn’t know much about Taino people and their culinary heritage. Thanks for sharing

Reply
CeramicLover92 July 17, 2023 - 4:15 pm

it’s impressive how much u can learn from old pottery! evidence of wine and old cookin methods. Thats somethin!!

Reply
StellaR July 17, 2023 - 4:35 pm

OMG, i love this! fusion food and drink from hundreds of years ago. these guys were way ahead of their time.

Reply
JakeP July 17, 2023 - 9:46 pm

This is mindblowing stuff! who’da thought they were sippin wine all the way back then? And I thought barbeque was a texan thing lol

Reply
MarcusW July 18, 2023 - 12:15 am

So Columbus not only discovered America but also brought wine there? haha history’s full of surprises isnt it

Reply
Archeo_digger July 18, 2023 - 3:46 am

dr Briggs is doing amazing work! gotta check out that study. who said old pots and shards were just broken pieces of clay? they tell stories!

Reply

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