Added 8 Jul 2024 by Gem Ellithorn

Ancient Grape seeds held by paleobotanist
Ancient Grapes in Peru: Steve Manchester Examines Fossils

Researchers scouring Colombia, Panama, and Peru for fossilized grape seeds unearthed a treasure trove – seeds ranging from 19 to 60 million years old. Among them lies the oldest grape ever discovered in the Western Hemisphere! This discovery sheds light on how the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which wiped out the dinosaurs, might have unwittingly created the perfect conditions for grapes to flourish.

The oldest known grape seeds came from India and date back a staggering 66 million years coinciding with the cataclysmic Chicxulub asteroid impact! This event, estimated to have been the equivalent to billions of atomic bombs detonating at once, it triggered massive tsunamis, wildfires, and a long period of total darkness! It also dramatically altered the Earth's climate, potentially leading to an ice age, and caused a mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs and 75% of all life on Earth.

This dramatic environmental reshaping, however, inadvertently created opportunities for the ancestors of grapes to flourish. This extinction event had a huge impact on plants too. The forests reset themselves, in a way that changed the makeup of the plants and in doing these allowing grapes to flourish and spread globally.

Beyond the Fossils: Exploring the Ecological and Evolutionary Ripple Effects

The sudden extinction of the plant eating dinosaurs likely triggered a cascade effect throughout the ecosystem. The previously suppressed plant life, particularly lower-growing species and climbing vines, would have constantly been eaten and not had much time to grow but this shift could have encouraged the plants to potentially change leading to the evolution of new traits or growth strategies. Additionally, the now changed landscape, potentially marked by the weather events following the asteroid impact, may have may have weeded out (pardon the pun) plants that couldn't adapt and favoured the ones with traits that helped them survive in the new world.

Furthermore, a closer look at the newly discovered species could reveal fascinating details about the evolution of grapes. How do these ancient ancestors compare to our modern shop bought varieties? Did they taste different?

Could further exploration in South America unearth even older grape fossils? Or are there more secrets to be found out there? Could analysing the DNA of these fossils provide insights into their genetic makeup?

Wine and grapes

Winemakers are a breed of passionate inventors, constantly seeking ways to push boundaries and create unique and exciting wines. This discovery of ancient grape fossils unlocks a treasure trove of genetic information. By comparing the genetic makeup of these fossilized grapes to modern varieties, researchers can gain valuable insights into the evolution of grape characteristics like flavour profiles, disease resistance, and climate adaptability. This knowledge could be a game-changer for the future of winemaking.

These fossilized grape seeds whisper a captivating tale of resilience and adaptation. A mass extinction event may have inadvertently opened the door for the rise of a fruit with profound cultural significance. As we delve deeper into the fossil record, each discovery unveils a new chapter in the extraordinary story of life on Earth.

The next time you raise a glass of wine, remember the remarkable journey of the grape, a journey that began millions of years ago with a twist of fate.