The following article, written by University of South Florida Assistant Professor
Monte Kronio rises 1,300 feet above the geothermally active landscape of southwestern Sicily. Hidden in its bowels is a labyrinthine system of caves, filled with hot sulfuric vapors. At lower levels, these caves average 99 degrees Fahrenheit and 100 percent humidity. Human sweat cannot evaporate and heat stroke can result in less than 20 minutes of exposure to these underground conditions.
Nonetheless, people have been visiting the caves of Monte Kronio since as far back as 8,000 years ago. They’ve left behind vessels from the Copper Age (early sixth to early third millennium B.C.) as well as various sizes of ceramic storage jars, jugs and basins. In the deepest cavities of the mountain these artifacts sometimes lie with human skeletons.
Archaeologists debate what unknown religious practices these artifacts might be evidence of. Did worshipers sacrifice their lives bringing offerings to placate a mysterious deity who puffed gasses inside Monte Kronio? Or did these people bury high-ranking individuals in that special place, close to what was probably considered a source of magical power?
One of the most puzzling of questions around this prehistoric site has been what those vessels contained. What substance was so precious it might mollify a deity or properly accompany dead chiefs and warriors on their trip to the underworld?
Using tiny samples, scraped from these ancient artifacts, my recent analysis came up with a surprising answer: wine. And that discovery has big implications for the story archaeologists tell about the people who lived in this time and place. Continue reading at The Conversation.