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Bronze Age wine cellar uncovered

By Amber Rolt on 28/08/14 10:00 AM

A recent study on what may well be the oldest and largest collection of wine containers reveals new information about ancient wine production.

On the site of an old Canaanite palace at Tel Kabri in northern Israel in 2013 they found 40 large containers, which amounts to the equivalent of 3,000 bottles today.

Archaeologists examined the traces of wine from inside the jugs, and found that the residue from herbs and resins had been used to preserve and possibly improve the flavour of wine.

The findings were reported in the Plos One journal, where the introduction to the report explains: “A comprehensive program of organic residue analysis has now revealed that all of the relatively uniform jars contain evidence for wine. Furthermore, the enclosed context inherent to a singular intact wine cellar presented an unprecedented opportunity for a scientifically intensive study, allowing for the detection of subtle differences in the ingredients or additives within similar wine jars of apparently the same vintage.

“Additives seem to have included honey, storax resin, terebinth resin, cedar oil, cyperus, juniper, and perhaps even mint, myrtle, or cinnamon, all or most of which are attested in the 18th century BC Mari texts from Mesopotamia and the 15th century BC Ebers Papyrus from Egypt.

“These additives suggest a sophisticated understanding of the botanical landscape and the pharmacopeic skills necessary to produce a complex beverage that balanced preservation, palatability, and psychoactivity.”

What is most interesting about the findings is that this wine was produced for household economy, and personal enjoyment, yet the production methods are still very advanced.

The palace complex where they found the wine covers some 6,000 square meters, and has been excavated many times since the 1980s. Archaeologists are continuing to explore the surrounding area, to find more links which will help them determine more about ancient wine making, and whether there are still any surviving grapes in the region that would have been used for this wine production.

It is thought that winemaking came to the Tel Kabri region in the fourth millennium B.C and that by the Middle Bronze Age wines from there and the Jordan Valley were held in high regard and exported to the pharaohs in Egypt.