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Archeologists unearth one of civilization’s oldest wine cellars

Apparently Bronze Age humans liked their vino. A team of American and Israeli archeologists has excavated what may be the largest and most ancient wine stash in the Near East.

The 3,700-year-old Canaanite wine cellar is connected to a palace that dates back to 1700 B.C., scientists said Friday at a conference in Baltimore. Located in what is now modern northern Israel, the cellar once housed more than 500 gallons of wine–enough to fill some 3,000 bottles. The palace was destroyed by a natural disaster, researchers say.

The team made the discovery at the 75-acre Tel Kabri site, which contains the ruins of a Canaanite city. They first unearthed a giant three-foot-long clay jar, later named “Bessie.”

“We dug and we dug, and all of a sudden, Bessie’s friends started appearing–five, 10, 15, ultimately 40 jars packed in a 15-by-25-foot storage room,” team member Eric Cline, an archeologist at George Washington University, said in a university news release. “This is a hugely significant discovery–it’s a wine cellar that, to our knowledge, is largely unmatched in its age and size.”

According to the researchers, the wine cellar was located near a banquet hall “where the Kabri elite and possibly foreign guests consumed goat meat and wine,” said Dr. Yasur-Landau, chair of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa. “The wine cellar and the banquet hall were destroyed in the same violent event, perhaps an earthquake, which covered them with thick debris of mud bricks and plaster,” Landau explained.

Interestingly, it turns out the ancient Canaanites weren’t just lushes and they weren’t drinking moonshine. They were wine connoisseurs.

Andrew Koh, a chemist at Brandeis University, analyzed the organic compounds that had infused the 40 clay jugs stored in the cellar. He not only found traces of tartaric and syringic acids, which are key components of wine, he found residual traces of honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resin. The recipe is similar to medicinal wines used in Egypt for 2,000 years. Koh says the recipe for the wine was “strictly followed in each and every jar.”

The team is continuing to analyze the wine residue and hopes to be able to recreate the ancient wine recipe. They likely will gather more evidence at their next dig in 2015 because shortly before they wrapped up work this summer, they discovered two doors leading out of the wine cellar that lead, they believe, to additional storage rooms.

Delila James

Delila James

Associate Editor/Writer
Delila James practiced civil rights and employment law for almost 20 years. Before going to law school, she raised organic lamb on a ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills, ran a dairy farm in Muscoda, WI, and then owned a popular live music nightclub in Madison, WI. She has a Master's degree in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she went to law school. She also is a published poet. She now is a book editor, writes legal blogs, and is trying to finish a book. She has been writing for Science Recorder since March, 2013.
About Delila James (1329 Articles)
Delila James practiced civil rights and employment law for almost 20 years. Before going to law school, she raised organic lamb on a ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills, ran a dairy farm in Muscoda, WI, and then owned a popular live music nightclub in Madison, WI. She has a Master's degree in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she went to law school. She also is a published poet. She now is a book editor, writes legal blogs, and is trying to finish a book. She has been writing for Science Recorder since March, 2013.