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3,700-year-old wine cellar held booze you might not want to drink

Archaeologists have unearthed one of the oldest and largest wine cellars in the near-East, dating back to approximately 3,700 years ago.

Packed with 40 jars, 3 feet high each, it had a modern-day capacity of 2,000 liters, or about 3,000 bottles of wine. (You can see the jars in the gallery above).

Sounds like the living wasn't too bad in 1700 B.C.

The cellar was discovered in northern Israel on the grounds of a vast palatial estate that was once home to the ruling household of a northern Canaanite city.

Using organic residue analysis, the archaeologists were able to determine that the wine in the jugs was sweetened with honey and infused with juniper berries, mint, cinnamon and myrtle. 

"Some of it was red and some of it was white, and with these additives, I imagine it would have a bit of a cough syrup taste," said Assaf Yasur-Landau, of the University of Haifa, who helped discover the cellar.

Whether or not that appeals to you, the researchers note that the people who made this wine thought very carefully about its production.

"This wasn't moonshine that someone was brewing in their basement, eyeballing the measurements," said Andrew Koh, a professor at Brandeis University, who did the organic residue analysis in a statement. "The wine's recipe was strictly followed in each and every jar." 

As for the cellar itself, it was about 15 feet by 25 feet and located just off a large banquet hall in the palace. The cellar and the banquet hall were destroyed in the same event--possibly an earthquake or a mudslide, said Yasur-Landau.

The jars, which have survived the past 3,700 years largely intact, were fairly plain and undecorated. They were clearly meant for storing wine, not serving wine to guests, explained Eric Cline of George Washington University.

Cline was co-director of the dig along with Yasur-Landau. They, along with Koh, presented their findings on Friday at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research.

The researchers worked 14-hour days last summer to unearth all 40 jars, but their excavation is not over yet. On the last days of the dig they discovered two doors leading out of the cellar, possibly to additional storage rooms.

They are scheduled to return to the site in 2015 to see what they hold.

Who doesn't want to learn more about ancient winos and cough syrupy wine? Follow me on Twitter for more like this.

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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