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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 December 2004, 14:06 GMT
Ancient brew discovered in China
Ancient lidded jar from Anyang, northern China
Rice and millet wines were also found in sealed 3,000-year-old jars
People in ancient China may have been enjoying the delights of wine as long as 9,000 years ago, making them the first in the world to enjoy a tipple.

US scientists found traces of the vintage alcohol made from rice, honey and fruit in pottery jars excavated in a Neolithic village in northern China.

Previously, the earliest evidence of beer and wine-making dated from some 7,400 years ago in Iran.

The scientists say the old brewing traditions are still found in China.

The Chinese brew was discovered by researchers led by archaeo-chemist Patrick McGovern, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

"Chemical analyses of ancient organics absorbed, and preserved, in pottery jars from the Neolithic village of Jiahu, in Henan province, northern China, have revealed that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey, and fruit was being produced as early as 9,000 years ago," the university said in a statement.


"This evidence appears to suggest that the Chinese developed fermented beverages even earlier than the Middle East, or perhaps at the same time," Dr McGovern told Reuters.

Jiahu has already yielded some of the earliest known pottery from China, ancient musical instruments, domesticated rice and possibly the oldest Chinese pictographic writing.

Dr McGovern's team also analysed liquids more than 3,000 years old which were preserved inside sealed bronze vessels from the Shang and Western Zhou dynasties in the same region.

The jars, from the capital city of Anyang and a burial site in the Yellow River basin, contained specialised rice and millet "wines", said the scientists.

The beverages had been flavoured with herbs, flowers, and possibly tree resins, and were similar to herbal wines described in Shang dynasty oracle inscriptions.

The ancient wines were probably made using a variety of moulds to break down the carbohydrates of rice and other grains into simple fermentable sugars, they said.

The same process remains the traditional method of making fermented beverages in China to this day, according to the scientists.

In 1990, Dr McGovern found chemical evidence of wine dating to 3,500-3,100 BC at Godin Tepe in the Zagros mountains of western Iran.

The earliest known alcohol from Iran was found at the site of Hajji Firuz Tepe, dating from about 5,400 BC.

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