Archaeologists have unearthed what may be the oldest — and largest — ancient wine cellar in the Near East, containing forty jars, each of which would have held fifty liters of strong, sweet wine, archaeologists from George Washington, Brandeis and Haifa universities announced late Friday,
The amount of wine estimated to have been stored in the cellar would fill approximately 3,000 modern bottles, and there probably are other wine cellars waiting to be unearthed.
The cellar was discovered in Tel Kabri, located near the northwestern coastal city of Nahariya and the site of a ruined palace of a sprawling Canaanite city in northern Israel and dating back to about 1,700 B.C.
The archaeological site is located near many of Israel’s modern-day wineries, such as Carmel Mizrachi in Zichron Yaakov, near Haifa.
“This is a hugely significant discovery — it’s a wine cellar that, to our knowledge, is largely unmatched in age and size,” said Eric Cline, chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of at The George Washington University.
He teamed up with excavation co-director Assaf Yasur-Landau, chair of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa, co-directed the excavation. Andrew Koh, assistant professor of classical studies at Brandeis University, was an associate director.
Koh, an archaeological scientist, analyzed the jar fragments using organic residue analysis. He found molecular traces of tartaric and syringic acid, both key components in wine, as well as compounds suggesting ingredients popular in ancient wine-making, including honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resins. The recipe is similar to medicinal wines used in ancient Egypt for two thousand years.
Koh also analyzed the proportions of each diagnostic compound and discovered remarkable consistency between jars.
“This wasn’t moonshine that someone was brewing in their basement, eyeballing the measurements,” Koh noted. “This wine’s recipe was strictly followed in each and every jar.”
Yasur-Landau said, “The wine cellar was located near a hall where banquets took place, a place where the Kabri elite and possibly foreign guests consumed goat meat and wine.” The team discovered two doors leading out of the wine cellar—one to the south, and one to the west, and pending more digging in two years, it is assumed that both doors probably lead to additional storage rooms.
A large part of the palace was destroyed approximately 3,600 years ago as a result of an earthquake or some other disaster, according to the archaeologists.
Dr. Koh told reporters that the presence of tartaric acid means it was used for grape juice or wine, and several ingredients are the same as those found in winemaking recipes that previously have been found in ancient texts from ruins in what is now Syria,
Luscious grapes grown in Israel are recorded in the Biblical narrative of the “12 spies” who traveled from the Sinai Desert after the Exodus to the area of Hevron to report back to Moses what the People of Israel could expect when entering. The grapes and pomegranates that the spies brought back from the Hevron area supported the promise that Israel indeed is a land of “milk and honey,” but 10 of the spies also said that the local Canaanites were giants living in fortified cities. The report sent fear into the Children of Israel who rebelled against their mission, for they were punished to remain in the desert and die by the end of 40 years after leaving Egypt, except who were under the ago of 20 at the time of the Exodus and except for the two spies who tried to persuade the people that they could overcome Canaan with God’s help.
Fine wines have been become a booming industry in recent years, with the grapes of the southern Hevron Hills and the Golan Heights being used for dry wines considered some of the best in the world.