Iraq Banner Desktop

Store Banner Mobile

1,400-year-old winepress in Israel

Innocent boys meticulously excavated 1,400-year-old winepress in Israel

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Some young boys in Israel took great care in excavating a winepress about 1,400 years old, not realizing they were doing anything wrong. The Israel Antiquities Authority got wind of the dig and took over, bringing to light an important finding in the history of wine production in the region.

The unauthorized dig of the winepress came to light when a woman jogging saw what looked like an archaeological excavation—but with none of the usual signs warning the curious to stay away and not touch, reports Ha'artez newspaper. She reported it to the antiquities authority, which sent some inspectors to look and watch. They saw that whoever was doing the unauthorized and entirely unknown (to the IAA) dig was doing it carefully. The excavations were clearly done by someone other than robbers. Nevertheless, unprofessional excavations may cause the loss of priceless information or even damage structures and artifacts.

After a while the insepctors noticed a boy of about 13 loitering and watching the site.

Amit Ram, the authority's chief archaeologist in Jerusalem district, told Ha'aretz: "Before we could even ask what he was doing there, the boy ran up and openly and proudly told us that he and his friends were archaeology buffs and had done this excavation. On the one hand it's a crime. On the other hand I realized it was done in innocence, and I was touched to the core by the boy's story – which reminded me of my boyhood, at age 12 or 13. We suggested that the boy and their friends channel their energies to works for the community.”

The boy was unaware that he and his comrades had even done anything wrong.

Ancient Winepress

The winepress is large, measuring 5 meters by 5 meters (about 5.5 square yards). It consists of a large cistern in which the grapes were pressed, perhaps by walking on them. The grape juice then went from the cistern to pipes carved into the stone. Then the juice drained into a pit.

Another ancient winepress discovered in Israel. It was found in Avdat

Another ancient winepress discovered in Israel. It was found in Avdat (Wikimedia Commons)

Ram said the press is probably as old as the 6th or 7th centuries, though he told Ha'artez he's unsure whether it dates from the Byzantine era or the early Muslim era. That may become clearer as excavations progress

Israel, of course, is a veritable wonderland for archaeologists. Just speaking of winepresses among so many types of archaeological treasures there, in 2010 archaeologists discovered an even larger winepress of 6.5 by 15.5 meters in southern Israel. That one too was about 1,400 years old and researchers said it was unusually large and quite advanced for the time.

Wine is thought first to have been vinted in Mesopotamia about 6,000 years ago. The Bible, or Tanakh to Jewish people, is full of references to wine. And there are ancient winepresses all over the Middle East.

Archaeological site in Avdat, where researchers found winepresses

Archaeological site in Avdat, where researchers found winepresses (Wikimedia Commons)

The site has an article about winepresses in the Mideast that includes photos and diagrams of winepresses. It says at first winepresses in Israel were small and were cut into the stone earth near the vineyards. As time went on some towns and cities grew up around winepresses and were even named after the presses. Later cities along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea had clusters of winepresses in central industrial areas.

The first biblical reference to wine is in Genesis, when Noah plants a vineyard, drinks the wine and gets drunk.

A 1st century AD wine pressing trough from the Old City of Jerusalem.

A 1st century AD wine pressing trough from the Old City of Jerusalem. (Wikimedia Commons)

Featured image: The winepress is large, measuring about 5 meters by 5 meters (Israel Antiquties Authority photo by Alex Wiegmann)

By Mark Miller



OK, I would think that this could be a great archaeological find. But WHY is it illegal for boys, or anyone to just play around digging in the dirt? This seems odd and absurd. I realize this is another land and a different country, but really? --digging around in the dirt is illegal for kids there? -Since this land is in a state of constant turmoil, one would think that kids playing in the dirt would be a nice way to spend time like an otherwise happy child. I find it just wacky that these kids would be considered as doing something wrong let alone illegal by digging in the dirt. They weren't hurting anyone and especially since they were taking their time and doing a precise and careful job, why scold them for this?
It must really suck to be a kid there and you can't do squat and you might face daily violence on top of that. These kids were probably just really bored and decided to do something more constructive. I would applaud them for not getting into some kind of real trouble, but somehow they still did?! -WTF?

That must have been incredible. I grew up near Philadelphia, PA and it was an odd sensation to walk around in some parts of town that you knew was where the American Revolutionary War had taken place. Actual battles were fought on land that is now a McDonald's and that alone was weird to think about. But, using ancient Roman landmarks as parking bumpers would just take my breath away. Was this something that you were used to or was it an epic feeling to realize it?
An awesome story no matter.

When I lived in the Golan Heights the Israelis were using Roman fluted columns as parking bumpers. They had a yellow catalog number written on them.

Awwwwwww! I hope they offer them some work experience when they're a bit older.

Soo.. 13 year olds can start excavations.

When i was 13 it was still just digging around, regardless of doing it one way or another.

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

Next article