McGovern noted the absence of tree resin, herbs, cereals and honey, all of which were common in later fermented drinks.
The findings were released Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It is possible that modern humans first experienced the joys of fermented grapes in the vicinity of Lebanon, where McGovern thought more work could be done.
"The horticultural potential of the South Caucasus was bound to lead to the domestication of many new and different species, and innovative "secondary" products were bound to emerge", said archaeologist Stephen Batiuk from the University of Toronto, who is working on sites in both Turkey and Georgia, including the ones where the fragments were found.
The researchers say the combined archaeological, chemical, botanical, climatic and radiocarbon data provided by the analysis demonstrate that the Eurasian grapevine Vitis vinifera was abundant around the sites. They also learned to cultivate grapes, improving their yield and quality. "Georgia is home to over 500 varieties for wine alone, suggesting that grapes have been domesticated and cross-breeding in the region for a very long time".
This is where the ancestors of today's wine grapes first grew wild. While numerous pieces were collected in recent excavations, two were collected in the 1960s; researchers have long suspected they might bear traces of wine. "This discovery, giving additional proof for Georgia being a place where the winemaking culture started, is certainly very exciting for literally every Georgian-not only wine professionals-as the grape and wine culture is something sacred for Georgians".
The excavations on the project were conducted by a team from the University of Toronto and the Georgian National Museum as part of a larger research project investigating the emergence of viniculture in the region.
The Neolithic period is characterized by a package of activities that include the beginning of farming, the domestication of animals, the development of crafts such as pottery and weaving, and the making of polished stone tools. Some of the pottery wine jars bore decorations, such as grape clusters or an image evoking a person dancing beneath a grape arbor. "And the little nobs I suggest could indicate how a cover was attached". In Armenia, in a remote cave in the rock above the Arpi river, archaeologists found a small winery dating to 4100 BCE. McGovern's chemical analysis didn't find any such residues, suggesting that these were early winemaking experiments - and that the wine was a seasonal drink, produced and consumed before it had a chance to turn vinegary. The people living at Gadachrili Gora and a nearby village were the world's earliest known vintners-producing wine on a large scale as early as 6,000 B.C., a time when prehistoric humans were still reliant on stone and bone tools.
"Pottery, which was ideal for processing, serving and storing fermented beverages, was invented in this period together with many advances in art, technology and cuisine", said Batiuk.
To explore whether winemaking was indeed a part of life in the region, the team focused on collecting and analysing fragments of pottery from two neolithic villages, as well as soil samples.
This is not the earliest sign of any alcoholic beverage.
What sets the Near East apart from China, in terms of winemaking, is that none of the wild grapes found in China were domesticated. McGovern is now looking at vessels from other spots, including samples from Göbekli Tepe in Eastern Turkey dating back to 9500 BCE.
Stanford University archaeologist Patrick Hunt says the results show that Stone Age people lived complex, rich lives, with interests and concerns we'd be familiar with today. "We've gotten the ancient organic material out of them and now we just have to figure out what it all means".