Excavating a ruined palace in Tel Kabri, Israel, this summer, a group of archaeologists made a discovery: an old wine cellar. A very old wine cellar. A cellar they estimate—according to findings presented today at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research—to be some 3,700 years old. Within the cellar, over a period of six weeks, the team found 40 wine jugs, each one just over three feet tall.
The liquid contents of the jars, alas, have not survived. So how did the researchers know they were wine jugs, and not some other vessel? The team, composed of scientists from George Washington University, Brandeis University, and Tel Aviv University (and who, it's worth noting, have yet to publish their findings in a peer-reviewed journal) analyzed the organic residues trapped in the pores of the jars. Emphasizing pottery fragments collected from the bases of the jars, which would have been guaranteed to have had contact with whatever was stored inside them, the team analyzed the chemical components of the residues. They found, among other things, tartaric acid, which is a key component in grapes. They found traces of other compounds, too, suggesting ingredients that would have been added to the wine—among them honey, mint, and other herbs.