Regular readers of rogueclassicism will recall an item back in October wherein forensic techniques were causing a bit of a rethink of what was carried in amphorae (Some Potential Amphora Use Revisionism) and it appears the study is getting a bit more coverage, although there doesn’t seem to be much new to report. Even so, it reminded me of something that popped into my noggin a while back and which probably needs to be brought up. In the most recent coverage (from the Boston Globe), the researcher behind this — Brendan P. Foley — reiterates a phrase similar to something in our coverage back in October, to wit and inter alia:
“If we see wine, it’s with juniper, sage, or thyme mixed in with grape. That doesn’t sound like the kind of wine served at a symposium,’’ said Foley, who studies shipwreck remains to learn about ancient civilizations. The wine may instead have been a preservative for kitchen or medicinal herbs, he said.
He says much the same in a radio interview with WAMC (Researchers Use Police Forensic Techniques To Discover Aegean History).
Also of note in he Boston Globe coverage are some additional comments by Mark Lawall (who was also mentioned in the previous coverage):
But Mark Lawall, a specialist in Greek amphorae at the University of Manitoba, disagreed that Foley’s research on amphorae significantly advances the study of them. Scholars already knew that ancient Greek amphorae contained more than wine, he said.
“The DNA studies have certainly added a new tool to the arsenal but they have not radically changed specialists’ understanding of these jars’ contents,’’ Lawall said in an e-mail.
Beyond that, this whole juniper-in-a-wine-jar thing sent me exploring and, perhaps not surprisingly, juniper mixed with wine was a medicine mentioned by Cato (de Agricultura 123, via Lacus Curtius):
To blend a wine as a remedy for gout: Cut into small chips a piece of juniper wood a half-foot thick, boil with a congius of old wine, and after it cools pour into a bottle. Take a cyathus in the morning before eating; it will prove beneficial.
I suspect there are other ancient attestations of other such mixtures … but it seems to me the implication is that this is something that would be done ‘later’ and not be pre-made in large batches. Is it likely that remedies such as this were ‘mass produced’ and then shipped somewhere (would gout, e.g., have been widespread enough for that?)? Or might the presence of juniper simply be an indication that some amphorae were sealed with the resin from a juniper tree? And if there is a mixture of trace DNA types within an amphora, does that necessarily imply that the contents had been in the amphora at the same time? Might it not also argue for reuse of an amphora for different products? Indeed, we have long known about the reuse of amphora for different products — see, e.g, M. Lawall (not surprisingly),
“Graffiti, Wine Selling, and the Reuse of Amphoras in the Athenian Agora, CA. 430 to 400 B.C.”, Hesperia 69.1. pp. 3-90.