Akrotiri, on Thira, is a wellspring of information on the nature and environment of the Bronze Age, the people residing there, their occupations and their diet. Information concerning the agricultural economy sector also includes data on viniculture and winemaking. Charcoal made from vine wood and gigarta (seeds) of cultivated grapes are the most direct evidence pointing towards viniculture on Thera since at least the 17th century BC. The depiction of grapes on urns from that era, whether painted or in relief reveals the popularity wine enjoyed in that era as well as the potential prestige it lent to those involved in its production.
The production of wine was confirmed by a relatively recent find, the lino (wine-press) and the must collection receptacl . Another particularly interesting find was a wicker hamper filled with quicklime discovered within the wine-press . This find provited another piece of information about prehistoric winemaking : the use of quicklime.
Apparently, wine was stored in large urns with narrow bottoms and a vane just above the base. The variations encountered in the decoration of these urns (a column of concentric circles) suggest that wines was possibly stored according to varietes or quality . A similar vane-equipped urn was recently found in deeper strata, dating back to the 18th or 19th c. BC, taking us back a couple of centuries earlier in the history of winemaking on Thera. In certain cases, the vane is protected by small arched accessories within the urn interior , where a branch of thyme or burnet was used, just like today, to prevent obstruction of the vane. Perhaps these specially equipped urns represented an intermediate stage for must before it was finally transfused to storage urns, after being purged from any solid derbis – grapes, pips or leaves.
A fragment from the rim of a large urn was found with an inscription in Linear A . Although this script has not been deciphered yet, certain symbols in compination with ideograms comprise standardized ligatures expressing specific goods. In our case this includes the logogram for wine, which is known from corresponding monuments on Grete. This confirmed our postulations concerning the storage of wine in urns. It seems that these urns were insulated on the inside with beeswaz, according to the results of lipid analyses we performed on samples. Akrotiri has also provided us with evidence of wine exportation. This concerns a category of special urns with a narrow opening on the side, so as to minimize the risk of becoming unsealed during transport. These urns, which are known as stirrup jars have been identified as used specifically for transporting and transporting and trafficking wine and oil(More than half of the total number of stirrup jars of this era found in the entire region of the Aegean have been found in Akrotiri. Thousands of table utensils and cups come from Akrotiri and can be found in every home. Some might have been used for the consumption of wine (Pictures 10-12). The scene depicting a man filling another man’s cup illustrates this . The urn dates back to the 18th-19th BC and the scene might be of a ceremonial nature. However, could a beverage served during such a ritual be purely innocent, with no pleasant side effects?
From what has been said above, it becomes apparent that wine was a major commodity on Thera, contributing not only to the island’s economy but to the development of its relations with the outside world, as well – relations which have continued through thousands of years, to the present.
Chr. G. Doumas
Professor Emeritus, University of Athens
Director Of Excavations at Akrotiri