The tradition of adding herbs to wine seems to have continued throughout early Egyptian history. A more recent wine jar, found in southern Egypt and traced to the 4th to 6th centuries A.D., was also laced with pine resin and rosemary, the researchers noted.
Medicinal use of wine could be expected because of the well-established practice of medicine in ancient Egypt. A 2005 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City was devoted entirely to medical practice in Egypt's Middle Kingdom, which flourished about 1900 B.C. The exhibit centered on ancient papyrus documents with instructions to physicians on wound healing, pain relief, and even the treatment of gynecologic or dental problems.
One expert was impressed with the new wine jar analysis.
"McGovern and co-workers have an amazing analytical accomplishment here," said Andrew L. Waterhouse, chair of the department of viticulture and enology (the study of wines) at the University of California, Davis. "These results further show that simple wine, as we know it, may not have been the most common beverage, but it was more often amended in many ways," he said.
Still, "it is difficult to know why the herbs were added," said Waterhouse, one of the world's leading authorities on ancient wines. "For medicinal purposes? To enhance the flavor? To cover up defects? All are possible."
For more on wine and health, head to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Patrick E. McGovern, senior research scientist, University of Pennsylvania Museum Applied Science Center for Archaelogy, Philadlephia; Andrew L. Waterhouse, P
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