Archaeologists have discovered a 3,700-year-old wine cellar predating the Bible that stored wines which one researcher likened to a turpentine-flavored wine mixed with cough syrup.
The unique discovery was made this summer in northern Israel at the Tel Kabri site where archaeologists were digging what they believed to be a luxurious Canaanite palace built around 1700 B.C., a date that would classify it as the oldest known wine cellar in the Middle East.
This undated photo provided by George Washington University shows 3,700-year-old jars were found in the ruins of a recently discovered wine cellar in a Canaanite palace that dates back to approximately 1700 B.C., near the modern town of Nahariya in northern Israel. (AP Photo/George Washington University, Eric H. Cline)
Archaeologists announced their discovery at a meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Baltimore on Friday.
At the palace site, they found 40 pottery jars – that would be 3,000 modern-day bottles worth or 8,453.5 cups – of wine.
However, Live Science reported that the ancient beverage would not be recognizable today as wine, as “it was preserved and spiced with resin and herbs, including juniper, mint and myrtle.”
A co-director of the dig Assaf Yasur-Landau explained that the closest modern day beverage to the ancient concoction is a pine resin-flavored Greek wine called retsina.
“If you take retsina and you pour a bit of cough syrup inside, I guess you get something quite similar," said Yasur-Landau who is also chair of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at Haifa University.
Archaeologists first discovered a three-foot long jar which they called “Bessie,” according to Discovery News.
“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,” George Washington University Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations Chair Eric Cline said.
“This is a hugely significant discovery. It’s a wine cellar that, to our knowledge, is largely unmatched in its age and size,” Cline added.
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 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,” he added.
Though wine is mentioned in ancient texts, researchers say this is the first physical evidence of its existence then, Live Science reported.
“This wasn’t moonshine that someone was brewing in their basement, eyeballing the measurements,” Brandeis University researcher Andrew Koh said. “This wine’s recipe was strictly followed in each and every jar.”
Koh who specializes in archaeological chemistry carefully boiled shards of the pots to extract organic residue from the clay since no liquid remained in the jars. Back in the U.S., he ran those materials through a chemical analysis, which revealed a unique mixture. He told reporters that he believes red and possibly white wines were stored at the site.
“Tartaric and syringic acids, both hallmarks of wine, proved that the jars indeed held vino. Resins would have helped preserve the wines. If the ancient wines were anything like retsina, the resins also would have lent a distinctive turpentine flavor to the beverage,” Live Science reported.
The wine was sweetened with honey and spiced with juniper, mint, cinnamon bark and other herbs.
Once they determine the recipe used, researchers hope to recreate a batch of the ancient brew.
After the jars were discovered, archaeologists realized they had to quickly excavate them lest they be destroyed by the winter weather. The team along with students worked in double shifts to get them all out.