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5 September 2014
Archaeologists discover Bronze Age wine cellar in Israel

In 2013, while excavating within the palace ruins of Tel Kabri, a 30-hectare ancient Canaanite city site in what is now northern Israel which dates to 1700 BCE, archaeologists uncovered a metre-long jar, which they later dubbed 'Bessie.' Suddenly, Bessie's friends started appearing - 40 jars packed in a 5 by 8 metre storage room. The jars, each of which could have held 50 litres, were the equivalent of nearly 3,000 bottles wine, making this one of the largest ancient wine cellars in the world.
     The finds were made while were digging an area adjacent to a monumental building first excavated in 2011, a one-of-kind structure lined with precisely-shaped standing stones. The cellar was located near a hall where banquets took place. The cellar and hall were destroyed during the same violent event, perhaps an earthquake, which covered them with thick debris of mud bricks and plaster.
     The jars held 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.
     Now, further analysis confirms that all of the jars contained chemical compounds indicative of wine. Researchers detected subtle differences in the ingredients or additives, including honey, storax resin, terebinth resin, cedar oil, cypress, juniper, and possibly mint, myrtle, and cinnamon. They suggesting that humans at the time had a sophisticated understanding of plants, and the skills necessary to produce a complex beverage balancing preservation, palatability, and psycho-activity.
     Wine production, distribution, and consumption played a role in the lives of those in the Mediterranean and Near East during the Middle Bronze Age (1900-1600 BCE), but until now little archaeological evidence was available to support ancient depictions and documentation.

Edited from PlosOne, Popular Archaeology (27 August 2014)

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