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dimanche, 07 octobre 2012

VITIS VINIFERA

COULD VITIS VINIFERA HAVE BEEN DOMESTICATED INDEPENDENTLY IN CHINA?


Claude Gilois

 It is often reported that the culture of Vitis vinifera in China started during the Hahn Dynasty (206 BC- 220 AC) and in particular under the emperor Han Wu Dia  (156 BC. 87 BC).  During his reign, the capital, Xi’an, was located in the north  of Central China in the province that is now known as Shanxi. The Hahn dynasty corresponds to the opening of the Silk Road. Xi’an was the final destination of the Silk Road and it is the commercial channel, which is thought to have brought the Vitis vinifera in China from the occident.

 

However, two recent discoveries seem to contradict this historical version. In 1995 a Chino-American archaeological team proceeded to excavate a site located 20 kilometres north of Rhizhao in the Shandong province, one of the main wine production regions of China. They discovered remains of beverages, including wine as well as honey and rice remains. They found 200 pots among which, 7 contained wines and the rest a mixture of various drinks. Grape seeds were also discovered and the residues found were dated to be around 4600 BC.

 

More recently a section of a branch of Vitis vinifera vines was discovered in a tomb in Yangtai in the district of Turpan in the province of Xianjiang, carbon14 dating showed that it was some 2300 years old.

Région de Chine-final.jpg

Rhizao, Xi'an, Yantaiimage007.gif

 

It cannot be excluded that the Vitis vinifera has been domesticated independently in China. It is fairly unusual to find independent domestication of plants during the course of the Neolithic  as copying and adaptations are the most common methods of spreading new discoveries and techniques. However, it does happen when the geographical conditions (mountains, water, terrain etc) with isolated   groups of people in a remote part of the world and where the undomesticated plant is present.  China probably has the greatest varieties of undomesticated Vitis in the world. The Chinese botanists Wang and Li recorded 40 species and 13 wild grape varieties at the end of the XX century in China. The mountain range of Quinling in central China, in the province of Shaanxi, Henan and Gansu, which divides the country climatically into the subtropical region in the south and the temperate climate in the north, is a region of great diversity and 18 wild species of grapes have been found. Similarly Vitis amurensis is found all along the Amur River in the north of China.

 

huadong perry winery.jpg

The Huadong Perry winery à Qingdao

 

The early history of China is not well known as there is no written documentation and the situation is further complicated by the attempts of the historians to try to reconstruct the past and this has blurred the distinction between fact and fiction.

 

The subject of alcoholic beverages also has language issues and the Chinese use several different words and terms to distinguish alcoholic drinks. In China, the generic term to identify alcohol is Hui. For wine it is putao, pi jui for beer and huang jui for alcohol made by distillation. But the Chinese do not adhere strictly to this terminology and the terms are interchangeable.

 

However, if the domestication of Vitis vinifera had taken place independently in China why did the wine industry that was booming in the ‘fertile croissant’ several thousand years ago remain very marginal in China,  and there is abundant proof, culturally, artistically, domestically, and literally that rice wine was the dominant alcoholic drink for thousands of years?

 

This paper has no pretension to answer this question… but just to point out some discrepancies between historical knowledge and recent discoveries of modern archaeology.

 

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