Wine Production in Antiquity in Israel

From several excellent monographs produced by eminent archaeologists, it is possible to learn a lot about the history of wine and ancient civilizations.

Grapes have been used to make wine in the Holy Land (also known as Israel) for more than 9,000 years! The oldest wine pits discovered date back to the Middle East’s Stone Age, some 8,000 years ago. Before vines were introduced to Europe, the Middle East produced most of the world’s wine for almost 2,000 years. The past may be found in Israel and the Middle East archaeological excavations[1].

In the affluent Samaria, the capital of Israel’s the Northern Kingdom, inscriptions on an artifact have been discovered. The artifact was made in the 8th century B.C. According to the inscription, wine and oil were transported from the outlying villages and the royal vineyards to the capital. In addition, a 2,600-year-old inscription scrawled on the back of a pottery sherd found in the desert city of Arad, in what is now Israel, suggested a longing for wine[2].

The Archaeological Discoveries Tracing the Dissemination of Viticulture and Winemaking into Israel

When our ancestors introduced viticulture and winemaking skills from the primary grape-growing and wine-producing regions, they presumably followed a trade pattern already in place for other goods. During the Neolithic era, which started about 8500 BC and ended around 5200 BC, agriculture was transported from the Levant to Western Europe by sea.

Wild grape pips from the NEO eras, which spanned from 7200 and 6500 BC, are the earliest evidence of grape-growing. These finds were uncovered at the archaeological sites of Can Hasan III and ayonu-Anatolia in Turkey.

Also, roughly 2,000 years ago, during the Chal period between 4000 and 3000 BC, near the Limassol District of Cyprus in the hamlet of Erimi, tartaric acid remains were left in clay jars. Evidence suggests that olive stones and burnt grape pips were employed in creating the Tell esh-Shuna item.

The EBA period, which spanned from 3200 BC to 1900 B.C., constituted the first-time grapes were cultivated. V. vinifera vines, charred berries, and wood were utilized to cultivate grapes in the city of Jericho[3].

Evidence of a wine storage cellar during the MBA (1650–1350 BC) has also been found. Small and big jars were available at Tel Kabri. Tel Kabri may be located in the Galilee region of modern-day Israel, to the west of the Sea of Galilee[4].

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Figure 1. The Circled Numbers show how Wine Making Winemaking and Viticulture Diffused from the Middle East to Israel. NOTE: The map can be used to trace how winemaking entered Israel from 7200 BC in Turkey to 1500 BC at Tel Kabri, western Galilee, modern-day Israel (see Figure 2).

Wine Production in Ancient Israel and Grape Domestication

Inevitably, over its long history, the area initially known as the “Levant” is now referred to as “Modern Israel” and has been home to many different ethnic groups. Phoenicians had the most significant role in expanding a wine-based society throughout the ancient Mediterranean, including Canaanites, Philistines, and Israelites. Wine began to play an important role in the Iron Age Mediterranean following the Late Bronze Age.

From Archeological finds, “amphorae” transported containers and wine manufacture, storage, and consumption were common throughout the Iron Age. Wine or olive oil was produced using presses, brick vats, storage facilities, and other equipment. Among other things, a 2,600-year-old Phoenician wine press has been unearthed in Israel’s seaside town of Tell el-Burak (See figure 2).

Grapes were domesticated by crossing less developed hermaphrodite plants with more extensive and sweeter fruit and pruning the vines to increase their productivity. Recent research suggests domestication occurred between 8000 and 9000 years ago during the Neolithic Age, through a labor-intensive process. Archaeological remains, protohistoric documents, and genetic research all point to the “SSC” area as the first known location of domestication[5].

Winemaking and Biblical Concept

The Bible says that Noah stepped off the ark on Mount Ararat after the Great Flood and “planted the first vine and made wine” (Genesis 9:20–21). In actuality, the origins of winemaking may be traced back to Noah, as previously believed[6].

Hermaphrodite plants have recently been discovered at this site, according to a study conducted by McGovern[7]. In this area, researchers discovered hermaphrodite plants that might be a potential breeding target because of their higher fruit yields. Grape seeds preserved in jars were found in a set of caves known as Areni-1.

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Figure 2. The wine production facility in Areni-1 site

For a long time, it was thought that the Levant area, including Jordan and Israel, was the first site where vines were domesticated. This has been disproved; however, there is still disagreement on the exact date of domestication. The idea that winemaking residues represent indisputable evidence of the existence of domesticated plants and the difference in seed sizes were both contributions to the dispute. Specifically, the belief that winemaking residues are proof of domesticated plants[8].

ON THIS DAY

1300–1200 BC: The term “LBA” is used to describe this period. A complete vineyard was discovered behind the walls of an ancient Egyptian palace in Aphek, Israel’s Central Coastal Plain[9].

1000–900 BC: The term “I.A.” is used to describe this period. A rock-cut structure featuring cisterns and storage pits was discovered in Israel’s Samaria region, near Jezreel[10].

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References

[1] Frankel, R. Wine and Oil Production in Antiquity in Israel and Other Mediterranean Countries; JSOT/ASOR Monographs No. 10; Sheffield Academic Press: Sheffield, UK, 1999.

[2] McGovern, P.E. Uncorking the Past: The Quest for Wine, Beer, and Other Alcoholic Beverages; University of California Press: Berkeley, CA, USA, 2009.

[3] Rasmussen, S.C. From honey wine to the cultivation of the grape: An early history of fermented beverages. In Chemical Technology in Antiquity; Rasmussen, S.C., Ed.; ACS Symposium Series No. 1211; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, USA, 2015; pp. 89–138.

[4] Estreicher, S.K. Wine: From Neolithic Times to the 21st Century; Algora Publishing: New York, NY, USA, 2006.

[5] Rasmussen, S.C. From honey wine to the cultivation of the grape: An early history of fermented beverages. In Chemical Technology in Antiquity; Rasmussen, S.C., Ed.; ACS Symposium Series No. 1211; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, USA, 2015; pp. 89–138.

[6] Frankel, R. Wine and Oil Production in Antiquity in Israel and Other Mediterranean Countries; JSOT/ASOR Monographs No. 10; Sheffield Academic Press: Sheffield, UK, 1999.

[7] McGovern, P.E.; Fleming, S.J.; Katz, S.H. (Eds.) The Origins and Ancient History of Wine (Food and Nutrition in History and Antropology Series No. 11); Routledge: London, UK; New York, NY, USA, 2003.

[8] Rasmussen, S.C. From honey wine to the cultivation of the grape: An early history of fermented beverages. In Chemical Technology in Antiquity; Rasmussen, S.C., Ed.; ACS Symposium Series No. 1211; American Chemical Society: Washington, DC, USA, 2015; pp. 89–138.

[9] Frankel, R. Wine and Oil Production in Antiquity in Israel and Other Mediterranean Countries; JSOT/ASOR Monographs No. 10; Sheffield Academic Press: Sheffield, UK, 1999.

[10] Koh, A.J.; Yasur-Landau, A.; Cline, E.H. Characterizing a Middle Bronze palatial wine cellar from Tel Kabri, Israel. PLoS ONE 2014, 9, e106406.

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