Archaeologists have uncovered a 3,700-year-old wine cellar in the ruins of a Canaanite palace in , and chemical analysis has revealed the sophistication of the period's wine-making techniques.
Samples from the ceramic jars suggest they held a luxurious beverage evidently reserved for banquets, researchers said.
"It's not wine that somebody is just going to come home from a hard day and kick back and drink," said Andrew Koh of Brandeis University. He found signs of a blend of ingredients that may have included honey, mint, cedar, tree resins and cinnamon bark.
The discovery confirms how sophisticated wines were at that time, something previously suggested only by ancient texts, said Eric Cline of George Washington University. He, Koh and Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa in Israel spoke to reporters on Thursday before their work was presented on Friday at a meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
The wine cellar was found this summer in palace ruins near the modern town of . Researchers found 40 ceramic jars, each big enough to hold about 60 litres, in a single room. There may be more wine stored elsewhere, but the amount found so far wouldn't be enough to supply the local population, which is why researchers believe it was reserved for palace use, Cline said.
The unmarked jars are all similar, as if made by the same potter, Yasur-Landau said. Chemical analysis indicates the jars held red and possibly white wine, Koh said. No liquid was left, but he analysed the residue.
Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania, an expert in ancient winemaking, said the discovery shed important new light on the development of winemaking in ancient Canaan, from which it later spread to Egypt and across the Mediterranean. He said the chemical analysis would have to be published before the ingredients of the wine could be assessed.
Curtis Runnels, an archaeologist at Boston University, noted that the chemical analysis showed each jar held wine from the same recipe, showing the "consistency and control you'd expect in a palace".