For the first time, scientists have discovered an ancient winery within a palace from the Middle Bronze Age, that produced high-quality, flavoured wine served by the ruling family to impress their visitors.
The excavations at the Canaanite palace at tel Kabri, an archaeological site in Israel which was established around 3,850 years ago during the Middle Bronze Age (around 1950-1550 BC), provide evidence of a connection between wine, banquets, and power in the Canaanite cities, researchers said.
“All the residents of the Canaanite city could produce simple wine from their own vineyards. But just before it was served, the wine we found was enriched with oil from the cedars of Lebanon, tree resin from Western Anatolia, and other flavourings, such as resin from the terebinth tree and honey. That kind of wine could only be found in a palace,” said Assaf Yasur-Landau, professor at the University of Haifa.
On the basis of ancient documents, the value of the wine in the storeroom can be estimated at a minimum of 1,900 silver shekels - an enormous sum that would have been sufficient, for example, to purchase three merchant ships, researchers said.
Two years ago, around 40 almost-complete large jars were found in one of the rooms, and chemical analysis proved that they were filled with wine with special flavourings, such as terebinth resin, cedar oil, honey, and other plant extracts.
“This was already a huge quantity of jars to find in a palace from the Bronze Age, and we were really surprised to find such a treasure,” said Yasur-Landau.
In this early excavation the researchers already found openings leading into additional rooms. The northern opening led to a passage to another building. Both sides of the passage were lined with “closets” containing additional jars.
The southern opening led to a room that was also full of jars buried under the collapsed walls and roof. This was clearly an additional storeroom.
“Then we found that this storeroom also had an opening at its southern end leading to a third room that was also full of shattered jars. And then we found a fourth storeroom,” said Yasur-Landau.
Each of the new jars was sampled in order to examine its contents. The initial results showed that while all the jars in the first storeroom were filled with wine, in the other storerooms some of the jars contained wine, others appear to have been rinsed clean, while others still contained only resin, without wine.
“It seems that some of the new storerooms were used for mixing wines with various flavourings and for storing empty jars for filling with the mixed wine,” Yasur-Landau said.
“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,” he said, adding that this is the first time that a winery has been found in a palace from the Middle Bronze Age.