A new study reveals: The Jerusalem Elite in the Kingdom of Judah Preferred Wine with Touches of Vanilla
Researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority examined jars unearthed during excavations in the City of David National Park and were surprised to find remnants of the exotic spice from 2600 years ago. The researchers: “The discovery of vanilla fantastically illustrates which luxury products came here – possibly from India and its surroundings, thanks to Jerusalem sitting on the international trade route.”
A surprising discovery in the City of David has been discovered: A new study by the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University reveals that in wine jars from the end of the First Temple Period, bearing the symbol of trade from the Kingdom of Judah, remnants of vanilla spice were found – the luxurious spice, which came to Israel from afar.
The wine jars, dating to the days of King Zedekiah – the end of the glory days of the kingdom, were discovered inside storage rooms of buildings in two different archeological excavations in the City of David in the National Park. One excavation, conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority, is located on the eastern slopes of the City of David hill, and another excavation, under the joint management of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University, was conducted in the Givati Parking Lot, west of the hill.
The two buildings unearthed in the excavations were destroyed in the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, in 586 BCE, and the jars were discovered smashed inside the rooms, under a collapsed building. A new study, published Yesterday in the prestigious scientific journal PLOS ONE, published the results of unique chemical tests that identified the remnants of molecules that have been preserved in the tiny spaces on the side of the pottery vessel.
The study examined eight jars from both buildings, and in all of them, clear evidence was found for wine storage.
What really surprised the researchers, however, were organic residues, which indicate that the wine was enriched with vanilla – an exotic and valuable spice, which until recently, was not at all known to be available to the Old World before the arrival of Columbus. The remains of the contents of the jars were identified by Ayala Amir, a doctoral student in the Department of Archeology and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures at Tel Aviv University, who conducted the research in the laboratories at the Weizmann Institute and Bar-Ilan University: “Vanilla markers are an unusual find, especially in light of the fire that occurred in the buildings where the jars were found. The results of the analysis of the organic residues allow me to say with confidence that the jars contained wine and that it was seasoned with vanilla.”
The discovery of vanilla is apparently related to an international trade route that crossed the Negev during the 7th century BCE, initially – under the auspices of the Assyrian Empire, and later – probably under their heirs – the Egyptians, and possibly even the Babylonians.
According to Ortal Chalaf and Dr. Joe Uziel, the Directors of the Excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, who uncovered the group of jars on the eastern slopes of the City of David Hill: “The opportunity to combine innovative scientific studies examining the contents of jars opened a window for us, to find out what they ate – and in this case – what they drank in Jerusalem, on the eve of the destruction.”
The excavation of Prof. Yuval Gadot and Dr. Yiftah Shalev in the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David revealed a second set of jars, where an impressive two-story surviving building was uncovered – which may have served as a bureau of senior officials in the kingdom. The easternmost room on the ground floor, was probably used as the wine cellar of the building. More than 15 jars were found in it, as well as several other vessels for storing liquids, one of them huge. “The room was so crowded that it was hard to understand how people could move inside it,” the researchers say.
On the handles of some of the jars a seal impression in the shape of a rosette appeared, indicating that the jar and its contents were part of the royal administration of the Kingdom of Judah. The number of jars and impressions on them indicate the economic importance of wine, and the drinking culture as a tool for expressing status and power. On the importance of the wine-drinking ceremony in the local culture, one can learn from the rebuke of the prophet Amos about “the complacent in Zion … You lie on beds adorned with ivory and lounge on your couches…. You drink wine by the bowlful” (Amos 6: 1-7). Social events and ceremonies combining wine drinking were also common in many other cultures: Evidence of them can be found, for example, in the Greek symposium ceremonies – or in the Eastern empires, such as the Ahasuerus feast, mentioned in the Book of Esther. “Drinks were served in gold goblets of many designs, and there was an abundance of royal wine, reflecting the king’s generosity.” (Esther 1: 7).
Examination of the contents of the jars revealed that some of them had been reused several times, since in some of them remnants of olive oil molecules were also discovered. These findings indicate the complexity of the economic system and the advanced mechanism for collection and redistribution.
According to Prof. Yuval Gadot of Tel Aviv University and Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the Israel Antiquities Authority: “To date, we have not had direct evidence of the use made of such jars. Some suggested wine or olive oil, but there was no direct evidence of the vessels themselves. Molecular analysis now allows us to expand the boundaries of knowledge and imagination. Now, we begin to piece together the jar puzzle. The wine, perhaps, is not a big surprise, but the fact that it is seasoned with vanilla is amazing. ”
According to Eli Eskozido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, “The terrific cooperation between the Israel Antiquities Authority and Tel Aviv University brought us on a tray – or in this case, a goblet – information about the drinking habits of the nobles of Jerusalem, in the days when the First Temple stood. New scientific tools continue to contribute new information to the study of the past, even after many years of archeological research in the city.”