Ancient DNA from a lost Negev Highlands desert grape reveals a Late Antiquity wine lineage

Pnina Cohen, Roberto Bacilieri, Jazmín Ramos-Madrigal, Eyal Privman, Elisabetta Boaretto, Audrey Weber, Daniel Fuks, Ehud Weiss, Tali Erickson-Gini, Scott Bucking, Yotam Tepper, Deborah Cvikel, Joshua Schmidt, Thomas P. Gilbert, Nathan Wales, Guy Bar-Oz, Meirav Meiri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent excavations of Late Antiquity settlements in the Negev Highlands of southern Israel uncovered a society that established commercial-scale viticulture in an arid environment [D. Fuks et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 117, 19780–19791 (2020)]. We applied target-enriched genome-wide sequencing and radiocarbon dating to examine grapevine pips that were excavated at three of these sites. Our analyses revealed centuries long and continuous grape cultivation in the Southern Levant. The genetically diverse pips also provided clues to ancient cultivation strategies aimed at improving agricultural productivity and ensuring food security. Applying genomic prediction analysis, a pip dated to the eighth century CE was determined to likely be from a white grape, to date the oldest to be identified. In a kinship analysis, another pip was found to be descendant from a modern Greek cultivar and was thus linked with several popular historic wines that were once traded across the Byzantine Empire. These findings shed light on historical Byzantine trading networks and on the genetic contribution of Levantine varieties to the classic Aegean landscape.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2213563120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number17
StatePublished - 25 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. This project was supported by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program Grant 648427 and under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 842577, the Israel Science Foundation Grant 915-20, and Proof of Concept Grant 101069201. This study was conducted under the licenses of the Israel Antiquities Authority permits A7736/2016, G77/2018, G-41/2016, G-40/2017, G-26/2018, G-34/2019, and G-42/2021. The radiocarbon research was supported by the Exilarch Foundation for the Dangoor Research Accelerator Mass Spectrometer Laboratory. Avdat excavation was funded by the S.B.’s home institution, DePaul University, and by a grant from the Fulbright US Scholar Program. We wish to thank the Kimmel Center for Archaeological Science and George Schwartzman Fund for the Laboratory and funding support for the material analysis. We thank the Israel Nature and Parks Authority for facilitating the excavations. DNA processing and other bioinformatics work were executed on the Hive computer cluster of the Faculty of Natural Science at the University of Haifa.

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© 2023 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.


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