‘Blockbuster discovery:’ 35 bottles filled with 18th century berries unearthed at Mount Vernon

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Following the spring discovery of two 200-year-old bottles of plump cherries at Mount Vernon, archeologists have now unearthed another 35 glass bottles containing more berries from the 18th century.

Of the 35 bottles recently discovered in five storage bins in the mansion cellar, 29 are intact and contain perfectly preserved cherries and berries, likely gooseberries or currants, Mount Vernon said in a news release.

The contents of each bottle have been carefully extracted, are under refrigeration at Mount Vernon and will undergo scientific analysis, the release said.

The bottles are slowly drying in the Mount Vernon archaeology lab and will be sent off-site for conservation.

One of the glass bottles containing berries found in the cellar at Mount Vernon.

“Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine this spectacular archaeological discovery,” Mount Vernon President & CEO Doug Bradburn said in the release. “We were ecstatic last month to uncover two fully intact 18th-century bottles containing biological matter. Now we know those bottles were just the beginning of this blockbuster discovery. To our knowledge, this is an unprecedented find and nothing of this scale and significance has ever been excavated in North America. These artifacts likely haven’t seen the light of day since before the American Revolution.”

Scientists and archeologists at Mount Vernon extract preserved fruit from 250-year-old bottles.

Mount Vernon has partnered with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to analyze the contents of these historic bottles, composed of materials and foodstuffs that are likely 250 years old. While only a small quantity of the samples have been analyzed to date, the findings are significant even at this early stage:

  • 54 cherry pits and 23 stems have been identified thus far, suggesting that the bottles were likely full of cherries before bottling. Cherry pulp is also present.
  • Microscopy suggests that the cherries may have been harvested by snipping from trees with shears. The stems were neatly cut and purposefully left attached to the fruit before bottling.
  • The cherries likely are of a tart variety, which has a more acidic composition that may have aided in preservation.
  • The cherries are likely candidates for DNA extraction, which could be compared against a database of heirloom varieties to determine the precise species.
  • The pits are undergoing an examination to determine if any are viable for germination.
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