Archaeologists say they can piece together these wine jars, which are in excellent condition compared to other ceramic artifacts from ancient times. (Photo by Eric Cline)

A royal find of ancient grapes and wine residue may help resurrect Canaanite vinting

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Archaeologists digging in a kingly palace in Israel have found 120 large wine jars, some with residue, and grape seeds from 4,000 years ago from which they may be able to resurrect some ancient  Canaanite grapevines. They found the jars and seeds working in the mysterious Bronze Age Tel Kabri palace complex in northern Israel, not far from the Mediterranean coast.

Ha'aretz says it is unknown who lived in the sprawling palace, which is 6,000 square meters (19,685 square feet) and had several halls and banquet rooms. What it was called is also unknown because there is no written evidence at the site. It was inhabited from about 1850 BC to the 1600s BC.

An aerial photograph of the palace of Tel Kabri taken at the conclusion of the 2013 season of excavation

An aerial photograph of the palace of Tel Kabri taken at the conclusion of the 2013 season of excavation ( Wikimedia Commons )

The palace is unique in the Levant for this time period, but it has similarities to Aegean palaces, including those of Knossos in Crete and at Mari in Mesopotamia. Rooms were added through the years. Ha'aretz says a ruler lived inside and subjects outside, but they would come to the palace for special occasions or to pay tribute or taxes.

Yasur-Landau and Eric H. Cline of George Washington University are leading the excavations at Tel Kabri.

Ha'aretz reports:

Altogether, the excavators say, they uncovered at least 120 restorable jars still in situ in four storage rooms in the southern storage area of the palace (including pieces found in the last seasons). They may have also found a fifth storage room in a different building complex located to the northwest. "The rooms have not all been fully excavated," points out Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa: the number will probably double when that's done, he adds. All the jars are undergoing organic residue analysis in order to determine their contents, the excavators told Haaretz. Residue analysis of the jars found in the first storage room during the previous excavation season showed they had contained an aromatic red wine .

Dark grapes on the vine

Dark grapes on the vine (Photo by Fir0002/ Wikimedia Commons )

“The goal of this season was to further understand the Canaanite palatial economy, by expanding the excavation beyond the area where the jars were found last season,” Yasur-Landau told Ha'aretz. “We were hoping to find additional store rooms, thinking about the palace of Mari and the palaces in Crete from the same period - but to find ones that are actually filled with jars was unexpected. This kind of a find is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about Canaanite economy and rulership."

The wine cellar apparently was a room in a storage area that had four rooms, which had plastered floors and contained several types of jars, including pithoi (see photo below this paragraph), a juglet, a chalice and two shallow bowls. The chalice was crushed by a fallen pithos.

Pithoi used to hold wine, from Knossos

Pithoi used to hold wine, from Knossos (Photo by Cedric Labrousse/ Wikimedia Commons )

The grape seeds are important because today in Israel the varieties of grapes are from seeds and vines brought by Edmond de Rothschild in the late 19 th century. Muslim rulers starting in the 7 th century AD obliterated wine-making in the Levant, Ha'aretz says. The grape seeds found at Tel Kabri could re-establish at least part of the ancient vinting of Canaan.

“This season yielded 80 organic residue analysis (ORA) samples taken from approximately 70 unique vessels," says Yassur-Landau. "Last season's samples were taken from large storage vessels that proved to have contained spiced wine but the 80 samples from this season were more varied, including smaller storage jars with handles possibly used for transport and a larger assortment of fine ware.”

Cline added, "I am eagerly awaiting the results of the Organic Residue Analysis from the jars, so we can see if they also held wine, like the ones that we found in 2013, or if they held something else like olive oil."

Featured image: Archaeologists say they can piece together these wine jars, which are in excellent condition compared to other ceramic artifacts from ancient times. (Photo by Eric Cline)

By Mark Miller



Your comment, "Muslim rulers starting in the 7th century BC obliterated wine-making in the Levant, Ha'aretz says." is in error....there was no Islam in 7th century did not begin until 7th century AD! Please correct. I love your site, its fantastic!

Mark Miller's picture

Hi John. Thanks for catching this. I know the facts, just made a slip-up. I changed it.

Mark Miller




Hello Mark,
I knew that you knew but just wished to bring it to your attention. As an avid history buff myself I know how important the study of such things actually is. And BTW, I love/adore this site! It is filled with the most interesting things about our origins. I really enjoyed the article about how Buddha may have been a Persian prince! Your article about the wine and seeds discovery in Isreal was fascinating, and I enjoyed it immensely. Keep up the good work, it is much appreciated. Thank you for all of your efforts to educate laymen such as myself. Cheers!

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