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A 2000 year old wine cork retains all its properties

The cork corresponds to a jar from a sunken ship at Port de la Selva, on Catalonia’s Costa Brava. The Catalan Center for Underwater Archaeology (CASC) and the Catalan Cork Institute (ICSURO) have carried out a research project that has compared the composition of the old cork with a current one. The cellular structure of the old cork remains, despite erosion by water over 2000 years.

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23 June 2012 02:07 AM

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ACN / Gemma Font

L'Escala (ACN).- The study of a cork over 2000 years old concludes that it retains all its properties. The Catalan Center for Underwater Archaeology (CASC) and the Catalan Cork Institute (ICSURO) have carried out a research project that has compared the composition of the old cork with a current one. The cellular structure of the old cork remains, despite erosion by water over 2000 years. The cork belonged to a jar of a sunken ship at the Port de la Selva (Alt Empordà). This preliminary study will lead to further investigations involving chronological comparisons between corks from different sites.


We now have new arguments to prove the validity of cork as a good conservative of wine. A study conducted jointly by CASC and ICSURO has concluded that a cork more than 2000 years old has all its original properties. The director of the ICSURO, Manel Pretel, said the investigation caused great surprise especially regarding the compounds of the cork.

Now, the proponents of the study want to continue the investigation with corks from different sites and times to compare them chronologically, according to Gustau Vivar from the CASC.

The cork belonged to one of the underwater amphorae from the late first century AD found in the remains of a ship in Volt cape -a site located at Port de la Selva. This research proves the durability of cork throughout history, even in adverse conditions such as the seabed. In addition, the cork was probably born in a Catalan cork production factory, given that in the Empordà County (Costa Brava) cork was extracted at that time. It is unknown if it came from the Girona forests according to Pretel.

The main components of cork such as lignin, suberin and polysaccharides that make it elastic, understandable and "ideal" to fit the neck of the bottle and preserve, the correct entrance of oxygen, wine and champagne have all been studies, specifies ICSURO. Also, the cellular structure of which has been analysed and last conclusions show that cork has not been degraded "significantly" by the action of water.

The Catalan Cork Institute argues that is research has "reaffirmed the appropriateness" of cork for keeping the liquid carrying wine amphorae, and that "remains being the material par excellence when it comes to preserving wines and champagnes".

Moreover, the promoters of the study explained that there is no evidence of any other similar investigation in Spain state or in Europe. "It's hard to get corks as old", and there are few institutes "so specific" as ICSURO, explained Vivar.

New prospections of a ship seized in the 60's

The sinking of the ship that kept the studied cork can be traced to the year 10 ad, according to research. The boat, which carried a young wine from what is today Badalona, near to Barcelona, suffered a pillaging in the sixties, and it was not until the late seventies when a survey was carried out which found amphorae the cork studied appeared to in the neck of an amphora of a wine vessel, which were produced in Tarragona in the late first century ad. After the looting, in the ship there were very few of the 400 vases that could be carried. These pieces have been preserved in the CASC store and they have helped to carry out the comparative study.

Now, the ship will be re-explored next summer. The objective is to make "a good study of naval architecture to see how these ships were" and to see if we can really talk about specific nautical needs in the Tarragona area, according to Vivar. What is already known is that commerce in Tarragona had as one of its main destinations the current French port of Narbonne, where the sunken ship in the Empordà coast was going.

 

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  • The research team at Empúries Museum (by A. Camps)

  • The research team at Empúries Museum (by A. Camps)