WASHINGTON—A team of American and Israeli researchers has unearthed what could be the largest and oldest wine cellar in the Near East.
The group made the discovery at the 75-acre Tel Kabri site in Israel, the ruins of a northern Canaanite city that dates back to approximately 1700 B.C. The excavations at the vast palace of the rulers of the city are co-directed by Eric H. Cline of the George Washington University (GW), and Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, with Andrew Koh of Brandeis University as associate director. As researchers excavated at the site, they uncovered a three-foot-long jug, later christened "Bessie."
"We dug and 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," said Dr. Cline, chair of GW's Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations within the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. "This is a hugely significant discovery—it's a wine cellar that, to our knowledge, is largely unmatched in its age and size."
The findings will be presented on Friday in Baltimore at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
The 40 jars have a capacity of roughly 2,000 liters, meaning the cellar could have held the equivalent of nearly 3,000 bottles of reds and whites.
"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," 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 during the same violent event, perhaps an earthquake, which covered them with thick debris of mud bricks and plaster."
It wasn't immediately clear it was wine the jugs once held. To make that determination, Dr. Koh, an assistant professor of classical studies at Brandeis University and associate director of the excavation, analyzed the jar fragments using organic residue analysis. He found traces of tartaric and syringic acids, both key components in wine, as well as compounds suggesting the presence of ingredients popular in ancient wine-making, including honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resins. The recipe is similar to medicinal wines used for 2,000 years in ancient Egypt.
"This wasn't moonshine that someone was brewing in their basement, eyeballing the measurements," Dr. Koh said. "This wine's recipe was strictly followed in each and every jar."
Researchers now want to continue analyzing the composition of each solution, possibly discovering enough information to recreate the flavor.
Luckily, they'll have more evidence in a couple of years. A few days before the team members wrapped up work this summer, they discovered two doors leading out of the wine cellar—one to the south, and one to the west.
Both probably lead to additional storage rooms. They'll have to wait until their next dig in 2015 to find out for sure.
Funding for this research was provided by GW, the University of Haifa, the National Geographic Society, the Israel Science Foundation, the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, Bronfman Philanthropies and private donations.
Images of the wine cellar and jugs are available: http://go.gwu.edu/gwphotos (captions available upon request)
The password is: Kabri112013 (case-sensitive)
Video of Tel Kabri is available here: https://vimeo.com/79945061
To schedule an interview with Dr. Cline, contact Kurtis Hiatt at email@example.com or 202-994-1849.
To schedule an interview with Dr. Yasur-Landau, contact Ilan Yavelberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The George Washington University
In the heart of the nation's capital with additional programs in Virginia, the George Washington University was created by an Act of Congress in 1821. Today, GW is the largest institution of higher education in the District of Columbia. The university offers comprehensive programs of undergraduate and graduate liberal arts study, as well as degree programs in medicine, public health, law, engineering, education, business and international affairs. Each year, GW enrolls a diverse population of undergraduate, graduate and professional students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 130 countries.
University of Haifa
The University of Haifa, with over 18,000 students for undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees, is world-renowned in many research areas, and is Israel's leading university in the humanities, social sciences and marine research. As the home to a community of students that most accurately mirrors Israeli society, the University of Haifa is of unique strategic importance to the State of Israel. It enrolls the largest number of military and security personnel acquiring their academic education, who study alongside civilians from all walks of life - Haredi and secular Jews, new immigrants, Arabs and Druze. The University's distinctive mission is to cultivate academic excellence, create a shared Israeli experience and promote democratic civilian identity, in an environment of tolerance and multiculturalism.
- GW -
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