The Areni-1 Cave: Layers of history waiting to be unearthed

The Areni-1 Cave, also known as the Bird’s Cave, is the archeological gift that just keeps on giving.

​Nestled in the heart of Armenia, in the Vayots Dzor province, situated at an altitude of 1080 meters above sea level, this Chalcolithic–Early Bronze Age settlement and ritual site is a gem for history aficionados, where different artifacts belonging to various historical periods, from the late Chalcolithic to the Medieval, have been discovered. 

The excavation journey of this three-chambered karstic cave, conducted by an Armenian-Irish team, first began in 2007, when burial sites dating back to between 5000 and 4000 BCE were first discovered. This was followed by the discovery of a well-preserved brain tissue, making it, to date, the oldest example of a Neolithic brain to have ever been found. At the entrance to the cave, a 24.5 cm long item of footwear was unearthed. This was the oldest shoe made of only one piece of leather to have ever been discovered in the world. The moccasin is 5500 years old and was found in very good condition, given that it was stuffed with loose grass which had helped it maintain its shape.

Another mesmerizing discovery that was uncovered inside this perfectly-preserved cave is the world’s oldest-known winery, which dates back to 4100 BC. Archeologists unearthed a wine press for stomping grapes, fermentation and storage vessels, withered grape vines, and seeds as well as drinking cups. Surrounding the wine press, the team has located a handful of grape seeds, and grape must and dozens of desiccated vines. After chemically analyzing the pottery shards in order to find out whether the vat and jars had once contained wine, the obtained results showed traces of malvidin, the plant pigment that gives wine its red color. According to archeologist Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles, this discovery is the earliest and most reliable evidence of wine production and provides, for the first time ever, a complete archaeological picture of wine production dating back 6,100 years.

It is believed that the discovery of yet more historical artifacts inside the Areni-1 may still be possible. A new series of excavations are planned in the near future, and hopefully many more archeological treasures will be unearthed in the coming few years, giving us more insight on the history of humanity, and how we have evolved and survived throughout time.

-- Written by Grace Jerejian