What is it about?

The arid and hot Negev Highlands region in Israel expirienced a wave of intensive settlemets and agricultural developmen in the Byzantine time between the 4th and the 7th centuries CE. Wine that was produced from grapes grown in the Negev was traded and achieved international reputation across the Byzantine Empire. Genetic analysis of grape seeds discovered in excavations of the ancient Negev settlments reveals a close relatitionship between the ancient seeds and two modern cultivars that are still grown in many places in the southern Levant (including Israel, Lebanon, and Greece). These findings add new and important information about the cultural history of the grape in southern Levant region and the interconnectivity between different regions of the eastern Mediterranean.

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Why is it important?

The modern winemaking industry is heavily reliant on a limited number of European grape cultivars, which are best suited for cultivation in temperate climates. Global warming emphasizes the need for diversity in this high impact agricultural crop. Grapevine lineages bred in hot and arid regions, often preserved over centuries, may present an alternative to the classic winemaking grape cultivars. Our study of a legacy grapevine variety from the Negev Highland desert of southern Israel sheds light on its genetics, biological properties and lasting impact. The modern-day close relatives of the archaeological grapes may now provide an exceptional platform for future studies on grapevine resilience to aridity.


In the beginning of the project we didn't expect much because very few of the ancient seeds were preserved enough to yield DNA, but we gave it a shot anyway. It turned out to be a wild ride. First jaw dropping discovery was a parent-offspring relationship between one of our most preserved seeds and a modern cultivar that happened to be included in the study. Next came the hints in the literature that linked this family of cultivars with ancient trading networks and supported what the genetics had told us. A highlight was the possible connection to an ancient Hebrew grape mentioned in the bible. Finally, there is a practical angle to these revelations, which is the possibility to utilize the modern relatives in the fight against Global Warming due to their potential resistance to aridity.

Pnina Cohen
Tel Aviv University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Ancient DNA from a lost Negev Highlands desert grape reveals a Late Antiquity wine lineage, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2213563120.
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