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Graduate student Zach Dunseth carefully excavates wine jugs found in the ruins of a Canaanite palace that dates back to about 1700 B.C. (Courtesy of Eric H. Cline/George Washington University)

Ancient Wine Bar? Giant Jugs Of Vino Unearthed In 3,700-Year-Old Cellar

by Michaeleen Doucleff
Nov 22, 2013

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Now that's a magnum: Each wine jug found at the palace in Kabri, Israel, could hold more than 13 gallons, or 75 bottles, of wine.

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It looks like our ancestors from the Bronze Age were way bigger lushes than we had ever realized.

Archaeologists have discovered a personal wine cellar in a palace that dates back to 1700 B.C. It's the oldest cellar known, and the personal stash was massive.

More than 500 gallons of wine were once stored in a room connected to the palace, located in modern-day northern Israel, scientists said Friday at a conference in Baltimore. That's enough vino to fill 3,000 wine bottles — or a seven-person hot tub.

But here's the kicker: These Bronze Age winemakers weren't just making plain-old wine. They got creative.

They were infusing their drink with oils and resins from herbs, nuts and wood, says archaeologist Eric Cline of George Washington University. "It was a resinated wine, like the Greek wine retsina."

Over the past eight years, Cline and his colleagues from Tel Aviv University have been excavating the ruins of an ancient Canaanite palace in Kabri, Israel, about 4 miles from the Mediterranean Sea. The 8,000-square-feet home was buried in rubble by a natural disaster about 3,700 years ago.

This summer, the team discovered a storage room on the edge of the palace and immediately stumbled upon a giant ceramic jug inside the room. The pottery was 3 feet long and once held more than 13 gallons of liquid.

But the jug was not alone.

"By the time we excavated the whole thing, we had found 39 others," Cline says. "Pop, pop, they all appeared. It was an archaeologist's dream."

The room was packed full of jugs. And his team had to work double time to get all the pots out of the ground before the winter destroyed them.

All the while, archaeological chemist Andrew Koh at Brandeis University was busy trying to figure out what had been inside the pots.

The liquid, of course, was long gone. But some of its compounds had seeped into the bottom of the jugs and left the chemical fingerprint of wine. (Specifically, the pottery had traces of tartaric and syringic acids — for all you chemistry buffs.)

Koh and his team also found evidence of a whole slew of flavors and infusions in the ancient wines. They contained pistachio oil and cedar oil, which probably served as preservatives, Cline says. There were also signs of cinnamon, honey and juniper berries or mint.

The team still isn't exactly sure of the complete recipe, but it appears to be the same in each jug.

"This wasn't moonshine that someone was brewing in their basement, eyeballing the measurements," Koh said in a statement. "This wine's recipe was strictly followed in each and every jar."

And that recipe looks like it matches another one discovered at a Bronze Age palace in Iraq, says Cline.

"Other archaeologists have found a bunch of text at a site on the Euphrates River, which describes the wine the king had in his cellars," Cline says. The additives mentioned match with what Koh found in the jugs.

Once Cline and Koh nail down that recipe, they hope to re-create the Bronze Age brew at a winery here in the U.S. Drink like royalty — why not? We here at The Salt can't wait to try it!

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