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Ancient Middle East wine cellar fuelled royal parties, say researchers

A 4,000-year-old wine cellar discovered in modern-day Israel was used to supply feasting revellers at an adjacent palace, researchers believe.

The remains of the Middle Bronze Age wine cellar discovered in 2013 in present-day Israel. Image credit: Public Library of Science One

Months of scientific analysis in the near-perfectly preserved cellar has confirmed that the 40 giant jars inside were used to store wine, according to research published this week by the Public Library of Science (PLoS) One journal.

And, given the cellar’s proximity to the ruins of a 6,000 square-metre Middle Bronze Age palace, researchers now believe the wines would have been used for palatial parties and feasts.

But, the wines served may not have been to modern-day tastes.

Tests on the jars also showed that winemakers or cellarmasters probably used a variety of additives in the wine, including honey and juniper, and possibly mint, myrtle and cinnamon.

The cellar could have held up to 2,000 litres of wine and was discovered last year by a team of archaeologists working on a site known as Tel Kabri, situated in western Galilee in present-day Israel.

Surviving ancient texts mention wine cellars and wine drinking during feasts around the Bronze Age period in the Mediterranean region, as well as in ancient Mesopotamia, but physical evidence has proved hard to find.

All of the clay jars tested at the Tel Kabri site, which dates to between 1600 and 1900 BC, contained tartaric acid. All but three also had traces of syringic acid. Together, the presence of both ‘indicates that all of the vessels originally held wine’, researchers said.

Those jars without syringic acid may have held white wine, while the others held red wine, said researchers, although they said more study is needed to confirm this.

They added that the wine was probably locally sourced. ‘We know from a papyrus dating to 257 BC that the ancient Bethanath estate located just 15 km to the southeast produced wine from 80,000 vines.’

Earlier excavation work has shown that a vineyard could have existed there from the early Bronze Age.

Written by Chris Mercer

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