The Oldest Grapevines of the Western Mediterranean are Discovered in Sardinia


Researchers at the Biodiversity Conservation Centre (CCB) at the University of Cagliari in Sardinia have recently published the results of some interesting research on the origins of viticulture in Sardinia in Vegetation History and Archaeobotany, a prestigious international scientific journal. 

Previous research and written sources credited the Phoenicians and later the Romans with introducing grapevine cultivation in the western MediterraneaMap of Sardinia showing location of archaeological siten. But the discovery and subsequent analysis of cultivated grape seeds (“cultivars”) from a Nuragic site in west-central Sardinia rewrites the history of viticulture in the western Mediterranean area. The practice of growing grapes for the production of wines in Sardinia was in place earlier than previous research indicated and raises interesting questions about exactly when, how and from whom these viticultural practices originated. 

This research is based on analysis of more than 15,000 grape seeds discovered in the Nuragic site of Sa Osa in west-central Sardinia that date back approximately 3,000 years to the Late Bronze Age which is generally considered the golden period of Nuraghic civilization in Sardinia.  The research indicates that viticultural practices were already in place prior to the approach of the Phoenicians and well in advance of the Romans.

The exciting discovery is the result of over 10 years of intensive and extensive archaeological work and analysis conducted by the CCB in collaboration with various agencies and academic instArchaeological dig at Nuragic site of Sa Osa itutions that include, in no particular order, the Agency for Research in Agriculture (AGRIS), the Stazione Consorziale Sperimentale di Granicoltura of Sicily, researchers at the University of Cagliari as well as the office of the Superintendent for Archaeological Heritage for the provinces of Cagliari and Oristano. 

The analysis of the grape seeds found in the archaeological excavations are based on some innovative mathematical functions and computer analysis of the shapes and sizes of the retrieved grape seeds. This data can then be compared with current cultivated and wild grape varieties. 

Based on this analysis the researchers discovered that these ancient grape seeds are genetically related to some modern cultivated varieties. They appear to be the ancestors of some white grape cultivars, especially the Vernacce and Malvasia varieties that are cultivated today in the same region where the ancient seeds were discovered in west-central Sardinia. The archaeological grape seeds also showed a parental relationship with some wild grape varieties that grow naturally on the island today. 

The research group is continuing with its investigation at the Sa Osa site as well as as well as analyzing research on ancient grape seeds found in other archaeological sites both in Sardinia and elsewhere. The research group is also looking at other varieties grown since the Nuragic period.

For those technically inclined, the full research paper is available for viewing here.


©Richard Marcis
February 26, 2015

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