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Reconstructing ancient drinking habits

Archaeologists have long known that ancient Egyptians made and drank wine, but the wine's color has remained unconfirmed. A team of scientists recently developed a chemical technique that can identify whether the wine once contained in ancient jars was red.

Rosa Maria Lamuela-Raventós and her colleagues at the University of Barcelona collected residues from the interiors of five ancient-Egyptian pottery jars at the British Museum in London and the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Another sample came from the tomb of King Tutankhamen, who reigned during the 14th century B.C.

To confirm that these jars at one time contained wine, the Spanish team analyzed the samples for trace amounts of tartaric acid, which is found almost exclusively in grapes. All but one of the samples tested positive. Then, to determine the color of the ancient wine, the researchers looked for evidence of malvidin-3-glucoside, a signature pigment in red wine.

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