Discovery of 4000-year-old wine cellar reveals wild nights of the Canaanites

A wine cellar that dates back to 4,000 years in Israel is the most ever evidence of the boisterous, boozy celebrations that were an integral part of the local culture in the era.

The cellar was discovered during an excavation that took place in Tel Kabri, Israel, as reported in the new article from the journal PLOS ONE. Within the remains of a large palatial storage complex, archaeologists found ceramic jars as well as fragments of other vessels from early in the Middle Bronze Age, a period that ran from about 1900 BC until 1600 BC.

Analyzing ceramic samples revealed that there was tartaric as well as Syringic acid are common wine identifiers found in archaeological contexts. The tests also showed a variety of combinations of herbal components like honey mint, juniper, juniper myrtle, and even cinnamon.

Wine was an integral element in Bronze Age life in Canaan (as in the greater Levantine region). The region is equivalent to present-day Israel-Palestine. This is due in part to the rich soil as well as the warm and humid climate that made the area perfect for grapes to flourish. The abundance of grapes, and consequently wine, explains its importance and its presence in a range of different occasions.

The results of the test are in line with what we have learned from the past, such as an inventory of different types of wine and their additives in Mari, Northern Mesopotamia, in the 18th century BC, or the Ebers Papyrus from Egpyt. It was written around 1550 BC. The Ebers Papyrus is primarily medical text and contained prescriptions for remedies that involved powdered dung mixed with wine and given orally.

It is what remains of the Tel Kabri wine cellar today. 

The vessels were discovered in a storage room off the main hall of Tel Kabri and could contain 2,000 liters of wine. While this might seem like a huge stockpile, it was likely to have been used quite quickly and would have been replenished at least once every season. Wine is reputed to have a longer time to last than alcoholic drinks (such as beer) during the Bronze Age, but even an enormous cellar like this would not have been able to stay for long. How could a court consume 3,000 bottles of modern-day wine in a single year?

Massive feasts with the drinking of alcohol is one motive. In the Levant celebrations, they were called matzah. They were attended by an elite group of wealthy individuals, usually males, who would throw celebrations that were characterized by heavy alcohol consumption. Marzeahs were held to honor gods (though they weren’t directly religious), to remember a family member, to celebrate the hunt, war, or a specific ceremony of passing.

Caanan’s ruling class enjoys drinks with the Caanan’s rulers. 

Alcohol consumption was a major factor in the event, particularly wine. The motives behind this excess aren’t clear. To commune with gods, to display their version of divine attributes, or simply the social drinking among men in a scene that was reminiscent of the old fraternity parties. The concept behind matzah was that matzah was a sign of social status and social hierarchy.

The festivities included girls who were young and nubile. At one time, two daughters unmarried from the God El were present at the Marzeah (they were believed to be drunk and unruly and sloppy, yet the textual evidence doesn’t mention sexual activities). The proof of women’s role in the event is ambiguous. The wives who were excluded from the wedding were also able to have themselves matzahs or similar occasions; however, some sources point out that women and men did drink together, even under surveillance, as well as at weddings.

It was also utilized in religious settings, where it was typically offered as a sacrifice to gods or as a part of wakes in which mourners listened to music and enjoyed wine. At festivals, it was used in rituals of rejection or in battle reenactments from mythology, in which wine was often used to take the role of blood.

Wine was a symbol of thanksgiving as well as a symbol for the paying system that was vital in the design of economics. It was so prevalent across the Levant that it was even included in the rations for lodging and could be used to pay tithes just like grain. The army was sometimes paid with wine.

However, it is the large celebrations that are the most important to this recently discovered cellar. In the end, what was going on in this cellar was a clear over-consumption of something that is essentially useless and luxury wine. Thorstein Veblen, who was an early critic of this type of indulgence among the elite, once described this as providing the “means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure.” Veblen wrote in 1899 on the subject of capitalist society; however, his main point was that such indulgence at the top was an affliction of feudalism as well as before.

The discovery in Tel Kabri is a case in point. Who needs three glasses of wine? With the use of wine in this manner, the elites from the Bronze Age were signifying and justifying their authority.


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