Excavations at Tell El-Burak, an archaeological site on the Mediterranean coast of Addoussieh, a village south of Sidon, revealed a 2,600-year-old Phoenician wine press. The project co-led by Professor Hélène Sader, from the department of History and Archaeology at the American University of Beirut, is funded by AUB, the University of Tübingen as well as several German foundations, and the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin.
The discovery sheds light on the thriving industry of winemaking in Lebanon. “It was a great surprise for us and an exciting discovery because it’s the first time such an industrial wine press has been found on a Phoenician site,” Sader said.
According to Professor Sader, wine was an important Phoenician trading item and wine from the Sidon region was particularly famous and 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. “A drinking ritual connected with funerary customs was attested in the Phoenician cremation cemetery at Tyre el-Bass and included a trefoil mouth jug that probably contained wine next to each urn.”
National Geographic, Phoenicians played an important role in spreading winemaking throughout the ancient Mediterranean, along with olive oil. They are also accredited with the dissemination of the alphabet as well as other innovations.
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.”
An artist's reconstruction of the wine press at Tell el-Burak, looking from the southeast.
ILLUSTRATION COURTESY OF THE TELL EL-BURAK ARCHAEOLOGICAL PROJECT; DRAWING BY O.BRUDERER
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 that a large number of grape seeds was found in the discovery area which confirmed that the installation was an ancient, very large wine press, which clearly indicates an industrial and not a domestic production,” Sader added.
Excavations will continue, as geomagnetic surveys show there may be a second wine press on site.
Tell El- Burak has yielded several breakthrough discoveries. In 2019, the results of 17 years of excavation and analysis of the Tell El-Burak remains were published, focusing on the discovery of a large Middle Bronze Age palace built with square mudbricks, the first of its kind to be discovered in Lebanon. (https://www.aub.edu.lb/articles/Pages/oldest-middle-bronze-age-murals.aspx)
Dr. Hélène Sader is a tenured professor of archaeology at the Department of History and Archaeology of AUB. She has directed excavations of Phoenician settlements at Beirut and Tell el-Burak. She served twice as the department’s chair (2001-04 and 2010-13) and as associate dean of FAS (2004-09). Her research interests include the archaeology and history of Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine, particularly the Iron Age, as well as Phoenician epigraphy. She is the author of
Les États Araméens de Syrie depuis leur Fondation jusqu’à leur Transformation en Provinces Assyriennes (1987),
Iron Age Funerary stelae from Lebanon (2005), and her most recent publication
The History and Archaeology of Phoenicia (2019).