Ancient industrial-scale wine press and monastery discovered
Archaeologists have discovered an ancient compound in Ramat Bet Shemesh near Jerusalem, where monks engaged in oil and wine production, according to a report in Live Science. The extent of the facilities show that they were producing oil and wine on an industrial scale.
The discovery was made while researchers were surveying the hills south of Bet Shemesh, around 30 kilometres west of Jerusalem, when they spotted a cave opening, cisterns, and the tops of several ancient walls. They had been sitting in plain sight but nothing never been excavated.
The large archaeological excavation which followed revealed a sizeable, yet organized compound with strong outer walls. The area was divided into an industrial room and a living space, suggesting the inhabitants pressed wine and oil for their livelihood. The industrial room contained a large winepress with two treading floors connected to a collection vat, where workers would have crushed grapes with their feet to extract the juice.
Within the residential space, archaeologists found several rooms, two ovens, and a staircase, which would have led to an upper level. Several rooms contained colourful and well-preserved mosaics on the floor, one of which depicted a cluster of grapes surrounded by flowers and geometric shapes.
In one room, archaeologists found a mosaic depicting a bunch of grapes surrounded by flowers and geometric shapes. Credit: Assaf Peret / Israel Antiquities Authority
Excavation directors, Irene Zilberbod and Tehila libman, said that the features of the site suggest that the compound served as a monastery during the Byzantine period (330 – 1453 AD) before the seventh century AD.
"We did not find a church at the site or an inscription or any other unequivocal evidence of religious worship," they said in the statement. "Nevertheless, the impressive construction; the dating to the Byzantine period; the magnificent mosaic floors, window and roof tile artifacts; as well as the agricultural-industrial installations inside the dwelling compound are all known to us from numerous other contemporary monasteries."
The archaeological team has said that operations ceased at the beginning of the Islamic period in the seventh century, when the compound likely changed hands and new residents occupied the area and adapted the space to suit their own needs. However, it is unclear under what circumstances this took place.
Featured image: The excavation site of an ancient compound in Israel that has an oil press, winepress and mosaics dating back to the Byzantine period. Credit: Griffin Aerial Photography Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority