Wine experts are always talking about aging wine, perfect vintages and the like, but in northern Israel, archaeologists have made an incredible discovery by unearthing wine which dates back around 3,700 years. Now is that aged to perfection, do you think, or is it just plain old.
The find is one of the oldest, and biggest, wine cellars ever to be discovered in the near-East. In fact that cellar was discovered on the grounds of an estate, once the palatial home of a ruling household in an ancient Canaanite city.
Archaeologists uncovered around 40 jars, each three feet in height, which contain around 2,000 liters, or in clearer terms 3,000 bottles of wine. Whether you would enjoy tippling the contents, however, is a different story entirely.
According to an organic residue analysis run by the archaeologists, the wine had been sweetened with honey, and was infused with cinnamon, juniper berries, mint and myrtle.
Assaf Yasur-Landau from the University of Haifa was one of the archaeologists who made the discovery. He reckoned that some of the wine was red, and some was white. He said that most probably, with the ingredients listed above, the wine would have a taste similar to modern cough syrup.
While the ingredients might not be suitable to all wine-lovers’ tastes, Andrew Koh, a professor at Brandeis University who ran the organic residue analysis, said that this wasn’t moonshine, and that the particular recipe was strictly adhered to with each and every jar.
Yasur-Landau added that the wine not only included local, but also imported ingredients, including cedar oil, which would have made it a luxurious drink, reserved for special occasions. And if the wine is just plain old, or aged to perfection after those 3,700 years, it is still a remarkable find.
According to Eric Cline of George ‘Washington University, the jars themselves, which were mostly intact after 3,700 years, were plain and not decorated in any way. They were simply intended for storing the wine, apparently, not for serving it to the fancy guests at the palace.
Cline said that this was a “hugely significant discovery” and that the wine cellar is, as far as they know, unmatched in both age and size.
Cline acted as co-director of the archaeological dig together with Yasur-Landau, and together with Koh, they presented their findings at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on Friday.
The current work started back in 2005 and after four years, researchers first uncovered incredible frescoes and then last year discovered the banquet hall. The current wine discovery started when they found one of the ceramic jugs in the storage room off the banquet hall and on continuing their excavations they uncovered the larger find.
Excavations are continuing around the site of the wine cellar. It took archaeologists many 14 hour days during the summer to unearth the 40 jars, but while digging they discovered two more doors, both leading from the cellar, which might possibly open on to additional storage rooms.
What they have uncovered so far is about 15 by 25 feet, and runs off from a large banqueting hall in the palace. Yasur-Landan believes that both the cellar and banqueting hall were destroyed during the same event, whether a mudslide or an earthquake, leaving the jars mostly in excellent condition.
The team is planning to return to the site of the 3,700 year old palace in 2015 to see what more can be discovered, whether wine, aged to perfection, or just plain old jars, but whatever they do discover, it will be a fascinating archaeological find all round.
By Anne Sewell