Phoenician Wine Press

Archaeologists have unearthed the well-preserved remains of a 2,700-year-old wine press at the Phoenician site of Tell el-Burak, 9 km south of Sidon in present-day Lebanon.

The wine press at Tell el-Burak from the south-west. Image credit: Tell el-Burak Archaeological Project.

The wine press at Tell el-Burak from the south-west. Image credit: Tell el-Burak Archaeological Project.

The ruins of Tell el-Burak, a small Phoenician settlement dating from the last quarter of the 8th to the middle of the 4th century BCE, were discovered in 2001.

Archaeologists think that this settlement was founded by the important Phoenician city of Sidon to supply it with agricultural products.

On its south-western and south-eastern sides, Tell el-Burak was bordered by a 2.5-m-thick terrace wall.

”South of one of these walls we discovered a well-preserved wine press,” said Dr. Adriano Orsingher and his colleagues from the University Tübingen and American University Beirut.

“It had been built on the slope of the hill.”

The Tell el-Burak wine press consists of a rectangular treading basin (3.2 x 3.5 m), a surrounding wall of ashlar blocks and flat stone-slab foundation and a semi-circular vat (2.5 x 1.95 m).

“When the Phoenicians built this wine press, they used a plaster mixed from lime and fragments of crushed ceramics,” the archaeologists said.

“A good-quality lime plaster could be difficult to produce. The Phoenicians refined the process by using recycled ceramic shards. This made it possible to build better and at the same time more stable buildings.”

“A local and innovative tradition of lime plaster had developed in southern Phoenicia,” they added.

“The finished plaster was water-resistant and hardwearing. The Romans adopted this technique for making their buildings.”

Reconstruction of the wine press at Tell el-Burak, looking from the south-east. Image credit: O. Bruderer / Tell el-Burak Archaeological Project.

Reconstruction of the wine press at Tell el-Burak, looking from the south-east. Image credit: O. Bruderer / Tell el-Burak Archaeological Project.

Earlier research in Tell el-Burak showed that grapes were cultivated on a large scale in the area surrounding the village.

“We assume that wine was produced there on a large scale for several centuries,” the researchers said.

“For the Phoenicians it was very important — they also used wine in religious ceremonies.”

The earlier discovery of a large number of amphorae — often used to transport liquids and other foodstuffs — indicates that the Phoenicians also traded their wine.

“The city of Sidon was on sea trade routes in the eastern Mediterranean,” they said.

“Phoenicians played an important role in the spread of wine in the Mediterranean area, and their tradition of wine consumption was passed on to Europe and North Africa.”

“So far there has been little evidence of wine production in Phoenicia,” they added.

“This new discovery provides many clues as to how the pioneers of wine produced the drink.”

The discovery is described in a paper published this week in the journal Antiquity.

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Adriano Orsingher et al. Phoenician lime for Phoenician wine: Iron Age plaster from a wine press at Tell el-Burak, Lebanon. Antiquity, published online September 15, 2020; doi: 10.15184/aqy.2020.4

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