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May 30, 2022 View:

Archaeologists discover oldest grape pressing equipment in Lebanon

Archaeologists have discovered the oldest grape pressing equipment in Lebanon. This is new evidence that the ancient Phoenicians were engaged in a high-volume overseas wine trade.

Image from: National Geographic Chinese website

This discovery gives us new insight into the Phoenicians" winemaking process. As seafaring merchants, the Phoenicians introduced the culture of wine drinking throughout the ancient Mediterranean, a drink that eventually became popular throughout the world.

An artist recreates Terre Burak's grape-squeezing equipment, as seen from the southeast.

Located about 8 km south of the Lebanese coastal city of Sidon, excavations by archaeologists have uncovered well-preserved grape press equipment that has been in use since at least the 7th century BCE. This is the oldest grape pressing equipment ever found in the Phoenician homeland, which roughly corresponds to today's Lebanon. The results of this discovery were published in the September 14 issue of Antiquity.

Numerous seeds show that people brought grapes from nearby vineyards, placed them in a durable plaster basin, and crushed them by means of foot stomping. This large basin can hold about 4,540 liters of raw juice.

The must was then collected in large vats and stored in special earthenware jars. These earthenware jars are called amphorae and are used for fermentation, aging and transportation.

This is the grape pressing equipment of Ter-Berak. The Phoenicians spread their wine culture to the ancient Mediterranean world, yet until now, there is little evidence of their local winemaking.

Image from: National Geographic Chinese website

The researchers write that four mud-brick houses, one of the Phoenician settlements between the 8th and 6th centuries B.C., were also excavated near the grape-squeezing facility at Tel-Borak; it is likely that this site specialized in the production of wine for overseas trade.

Wine was an important Phoenician cargo, said Hlne Sader, an archaeologist at the American University of Beirut and co-director of the Ter-Berak archaeological project. She added that Phoenician wines from the Sidon region are world-renowned and have appeared in ancient Egyptian texts.

However, there is little evidence of Phoenician winemaking in Lebanon, probably because of the fortuitous nature of archaeological excavations.

We have never thoroughly surveyed the coast of Lebanon, and few Iron Age (Phoenician) sites have been properly excavated, says Sader.

However, a number of similar winemaking sites have been found on the northern coast of present-day Israel; at the time, these belonged to the Phoenician kingdoms of Tyre and Sidon.

Wine wine was not invented by the Phoenicians: there is evidence that wine appeared in Georgia some 8,000 years ago, but the Phoenicians were the worthy purveyors, spreading wine, olive oil, and innovations such as the alphabet and glass to the ancient Mediterranean.

Ancient sailors brought vineyards and wineries to their colonial cities in North Africa, Sicily, France and Spain. Stephen Batiuk, an archaeologist at the University of Toronto who was not involved in the study, said the sailors made wine popular through trade with ancient Greece and Italy. At the time, people in these places knew that wild grapes could be made into wine, but winemaking was not very developed.

The Phoenicians may have introduced a drinking culture, (new forms of) drinking vessels, and another way of life related to wine.

The Phoenician love of wine extended to religion as well, and was used in the rituals of other religions in the Near East.

Patrick McGovern, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania who is an expert in the field of ancient winemaking, was not involved in this study. He explained that the Phoenicians were descendants of the Canaanites, who lived in the Bronze Age and were also the ancestors of the Israelites.

Wine was the main drink of the Phoenicians during their rituals, he said, but the Canaanites had been doing it for a long time, and the practice spread to Judaism and Christianity.

McGovern speculated that several hundred amphorae with thin necks from two Phoenician shipwrecks near Ashkelon, Israel, from about the same period may have come from Tel Burak.

We analyzed some amphora thin-necked bottles and found that they contained wine, and he said: Maybe these bottles were born here.

The Ter-Borak project, which is being carried out by a team from the American University of Beirut and German archaeologists, has been studying the site since 2001. But Sader said the researchers have not conducted excavations at Tel Burak in the past two years because of the economic downturn in Lebanon.