American Univesity of Beirut

One excavation, six incredible finds

​​​​​​​​​​​Archaeologists led by Dr. Hélène Sader uncovered a 2,600-year-old Phoenician wine press, the oldest ever found, at Tell el-Burak near Sidon which has already yielded a successioin of exceptional and spectacular discoveries.

October 4, 2020

The discovery of the industrial wine press, the first found on a Phoenician site, sheds light on the thriving industry of winemaking in Lebanon. According to Professor Sader, wine from the Sidon region was particularly famous, mentioned in 5th c. BC Aramaic texts from the island of Elephantine in southern Egypt. Wine played important social and religious roles in Phoenician times, and was used in rituals and funerary rites. “It was a very precious and highly appreciated product that was offered to the gods as a libation,” Sader said. 

Professor Sader emphasized the importance of the discovery. “We knew Phoenician cities were producing wine but so far had no evidence about it. This major discovery indicates where and how this commodity was produced and sheds new light on the economy of these ancient cities.”

In an interview with the Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star, Professor Sader said: “We found an installation that consists of a treading basin, where the grapes were trod, which was connected to a large vat where the juice of the grapes was collected and fermented.”

The study published in Antiquity noted the significance of the plaster that covered the floor of the wine press, which is believed to be the earliest evidence of a resistant and waterproof plaster obtained by adding crushed ceramic shards, which was later adopted by the Romans in their buildings.

“The botanical analysis has shown a large number of grape seeds in the discovery area, which confirmed that the installation was an ancient, very large wine press, clearly indicating an industrial and not a domestic production,” Sader added.

Tell El-Burak yielded another breakthrough discovery after 17 years of excavation and analysis, a large Middle Bronze Age palace built with square mudbricks, the first of its kind to be discovered in Lebanon. More “firsts” can be seen below.

Six FIRSTS from Tell el-Burak:
First Middle Bronze Age monumental building constructed with mudbricks, a building technique not known to have existed at the time. Ca. 1900 BCE
First Middle Bronze Age wall paintings discovered in Lebanon and oldest Middle Bronze Age murals in the Levant. Ca.1900 BCE
First evidence in Lebanon of Phoenician cultic installations with a standing stone (stele or baetyl). Late 8th c. BCE
First evidence of strong Egyptian contacts with South Lebanon (wall paintings). 12th-13th Egyptian dynasty (Ca. 1800 BCE)
First Phoenician wine press discovered in Lebanon. Its size suggests that it was used for industrial production. Late 8th c. BCE
First evidence for forerunners of fresco painting in the Mediterranean. Ca. 1900 BCE

​The Tell el-Burak excavation was executed with the permission and support of the Lebanese Directorate General of Antiquities and the financial support of the Henkel and Thyssen Foundations, the Deutscher Verein zur Erforschung Palästina, and the society of the Friends of the University of Tübingen, and by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the University Research Board of the American University of Beirut. The German Archaeological Institute funded activities requiring specialists such as the maritime, geo-physical, and geo-morphological surveys as well as the restoration and conservation of the wall paintings.

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