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Earliest Evidence of Wine Consumption in the Americas Discovered in Caribbean

Wine Glasses
The earliest evidence of people drinking wine in the Americas was discovered on a small Caribbean island. Credit: slack12 / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Scientists have discovered the earliest evidence of people drinking wine in the Americas. This evidence was discovered inside fragments of a clay vessel discovered on the small Caribbean island of Isla de Mona.

In the study, the scientists used special techniques known as Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry to analyze 40 pieces of pottery from the 15th century, which were from the Puerto Rico area.

Dr. Lisa Briggs, a researcher at the British Museum, led the study. The researchers examined pieces of broken pottery, known as sherds, from a Spanish jar that was used to store olives.

They were able to determine that the jar was made between 1490 and 1520 AD. The jar’s rounded shape indicated its early production, which matched the time when Christopher Columbus mentioned the existence of the island in his diary in 1494.

During the analysis, the scientists discovered traces of wine inside the olive jar. Back then, these jars were commonly used to transport various types of food and liquids on Spanish ships.

Fusion of food and drink norms between two cultures

Ceramic samples from the six categories of pottery analysed
Ceramic samples from the six categories of pottery analyzed for the earliest evidence of wine consumption. Credit: Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences / CC BY 4.0

As the first wave of Spanish colonizers introduced European customs, such as wine consumption, to the region, the local practice of barbeque cooking among the Indigenous people persisted.

The researchers suggest that barbeque cooking was a common tradition among the Taino community, who were the Indigenous inhabitants of this Caribbean area. Early colonists embraced and adopted this cooking style.

Since there were no large mammals on the islands, it is likely that the Indigenous population barbequed hutier or hutia, a rodent-like animal, as well as iguanas.

The Indigenous people in this Caribbean region would grill fish and meat over a raised grill using charcoal. Interestingly, the word “barbeque” can be traced back to “Barbacoa,” a term used by the Taino people.

The researchers propose that the culinary traditions of the Indigenous people and the early colonists merged, creating a fusion of food and drink experiences centuries ago.

Perseverance of indigenous culinary tradition

During last year’s excavation conducted by scientists from the British Museum, numerous fish and meat bones were discovered in the vicinity. However, none of these bones were found inside cooking pots.

The analysis of Caribbean ceramics yielded no indications of their use for dairy or meat items. While dairy products held a significant role in European cuisine, it seems that such was not the case in Isla de Mona.

This finding provides additional evidence that Indigenous culinary practices persevered despite the influence of colonialism and the introduction of imported ceramic vessels.

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