Scientists have discovered for the first time an ancient winery in a Middle Bronze Age palace. Its wines, a symbol of power in Canaan cities, probably helped the ruling family impress elite families, foreign guests, and visitors from neighboring states.
The excavations of the Canaanite palace at tel Kabri in Israel dates back 3,850 years during the Middle Bronze Age, or about 1950-1550 BCE.
Professor Assaf Yasur-Landau, one of the directors of the excavation, said that while all the residents of the Canaan city could create simple homemade wines, the wine found was enriched with oil from Lebanese cedars, Western Anatolian tree resin, and flavorings such as resin from honey and the terebinth tree.
“That kind of wine could only be found in a palace,” says Yasur-Landau, who also presented the full findings during an excavation conference at the University of Haifa.
In 2014, about 40 massive, nearly full jars were found in one of the storerooms, with chemical analysis showing that they were home to specially flavored wines. For researchers, that was a huge enough quantity to find in a Bronze Age palace.
The 2015 excavation led the team to a passage to another structure coming from the northern opening.
Results indicated that jars from the first room were wine-filled, and some earthen containers from the other rooms also contained wine. Other jars appeared to be washed clean, while some contained only resin. This meant that some of the recently unearthed storerooms were reserved for mixing wines and different flavorings, as well as storing empty containers to be filled with the mixture.
“We are starting to think that the palace did not just have storerooms for finished produce, but also had a winery where wine was prepared for consumption,” says Yasur-Landau.
Based on ancient Ugaritic files, the wine found in the storeroom can be valued at least 1,900 silver shekels, something that could very well pay for three merchant ships at that time. Ordinary laborers of that era would need to toil for 150 years to earn the said amount.
Paired with previous evidence from goat and sheep samples, the new discoveries showed how ruling groups formed extravagant banquets to strengthen their power. It was not typical during that period, for instance, to mix wine beforehand, therefore making the luxury of a winery necessary to serve high-quality wines immediately to palace guests.
The banquets made up of wine and choice cuts of goat and sheep, connected the rulers to important families, as well as foreign envoys and guests.