Archaeologists have uncovered a Roman-era wine shop destroyed following a “sudden event” that caused its owners to vacate. The 1,600-year-old site is located in the ancient city of Sicyon in what is now southern Greece.
Scott Gallimore, an archaeologist at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, and Martin Wells, a classics scholar at Austin College, presented their findings at the annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America in Chicago earlier this month, as Live Science’s Owen Jarus reports.
Inside the wine shop, the researchers found marble tabletops, broken pottery and some 60 bronze coins. Many of the coins were made during Constantius II’s reign, which lasted from 337 to 361 C.E.
“The coins were all found on the floor of the [shop], scattered across the space,” Gallimore tells Live Science. “This seems to indicate that they were being kept together as some type of group, whether in a ceramic vessel or some type of bag. When the [shop] was destroyed, that container appears to have fallen to the floor and scattered the coins.”
What was the mysterious event that caused the building’s inhabitants to abandon it? Experts can’t say for sure, but they think it could have been an earthquake or dangerous weather conditions that caused the structure to collapse.
According to the researchers, the shop could have sold wine as well as other products such as olive oil. The site was part of a building complex that included areas with kilns and tools to press grapes or olives. The larger complex had also been abandoned.
Wine played a vital role in ancient Roman culture across upper- and lower-class communities, though it was an especially “huge source of wealth for the Roman elite,” Emlyn Dodd, an archaeologist at the British School at Rome and expert on ancient wine production, told NBC News’ Patrick Smith last year.
“They owned vast amounts of land dedicated to viniculture [and] winemaking, and they were selling it all across the Mediterranean,” he said. “But at the same time, wine permeates the whole culture and society—it’s used in religion, medicine, in daily life. It was the main beverage when water wasn’t safe to drink.”
Last spring, Dodd was the lead author of a study on a third-century winery found just outside of Rome. Because the Rome region wasn’t as well-known for its wine as certain nearby areas, researchers hypothesized it was constructed as an elaborate display of wealth.
Many questions remain about the Sicyon shop, including what kind of wine would have been offered.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have any direct evidence of the types of wine that may have been sold,” Gallimore tells Live Science. “We have some evidence of grape pips (Vitis vinifera), but we aren’t able to say anything more specific than that right now.”
Researchers also don’t know who owned or visited the shop. According to Gallimore, no one attempted to return to the structure after it had fallen.