Oldest known wine cellar shows Canaanites partied in style


New research has shown that about 4,000 years ago, the region of Canaan was making wine. The oldest discovered wine cellar, discovered last year in Galilee, has taught us about the drinking habits of ancient Israelis.

During the Bronze Age, people in modern-day Israel produced wine and stored it in a cellar made of mud. The walls likely crumbled suddenly and the wine was abandoned. Researchers found 40 containers of wine in jars and the cellar was in surprisingly good condition, not having been disturbed over the years.

A study published on August 27, 2014 in the journal PLOS ONE explores the wine and what scientists were able to glean from it. They did a chemical study of the wine and found signs that spices such as mint, cinnamon and juniper had been added to it.

The cellar was discovered in Tel Kabri, in the Upper Galilee, part of northern Israel. Andrew Koh, one of the people who worked on the archaeological dig to uncover the wine cellar, said that the wine cellar was discovered in an old Canaanite city.

One jar they found containing wine was three feet tall. The room's dimensions were 16 feet by 26 feet. The 40 jars the team found could hold up to 528 gallons of wine, a kingly amount. The room was next to a dining hall for banquets.

"What we have is quite substantial - 40 jars - but it's not enough to redistribute to the whole countryside, so we're arguing that this is the personal or palatial wine cellar," Koh said. "It's for a nuclear kind of in-group, whether it's the family or clan, and it's for local, on-the-spot consumption. But it's still a lot of wine - they must have thrown large parties."

All jars studied for chemical analysis showed signs of tartaric acid, one of the main markers of wine. Three jars did not have syringic acid, which is used in red wine. This might suggest that the Canaanites made the first early form of white wine, which was not developed until after red wine had been around for a while.

Koh speculated that the wine may have tasted a bit like the modern Greek retsina, which some people enjoy, although some complain that it tastes of turpentine.

However, the wine was likely very good for the time, Koh says.

"If the Egyptian kings and pharaohs wanted wine from this area, it must have been quite good," Koh said.

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