It may not have yielded a prize-winning bottle, but excavators in Israel are excited about uncovering an ancient wine press, probably used for making low quality wine and vinegar, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority which has just released news of the find. The wine press was found in a Byzantine settlement next to an ancient clay “light house” which resembles a small church, suggesting the press was owned by early Christians. The site was excavated before new construction took place at a spa in the area of Hamei Yo’av.
The 100-square-meters wine press, says Rina Avner, the excavation director, consisted of a large treading floor sarounded by six compartments that situated north and east of the treading floor.
The treading floor slopes westward causing the juice to flow westward through and into a settling vat. The juice flow from the treading floor passed to the settling vat, where the waste and dirt sank. Two additional pipes connected the settling vat with two collecting vats. The three vats are situated in a row along the wetern wall of the treading floor.
“At the center of the treading floor we found the cavity of a screw that enabled to press the grape waste from the compartments and to produce viniger and low quality wine, mentioned in Rabbinic sources as “paupers’ wine”,” says Avner.
(Related: read more about modern winemaking in Israel here)
The owner of the wine press was probably a Christian, the excavators surmise, because near it they found a ceramic lantern decorated with five crosses. The lantern was designed as a miniature church building, with an oval opening on one side that enabled its owner to insert an oil lamp.
The other sides of the lantern were decorated by geometric impressions creating a design of palm branches. The crosses were carved in the walls of the lantern, so when the lantern was lit in a small room glowing crosses were projected on the walls and the ceiling.
Sa’ar Ganor, the Ashkelon district archaeologist of the Israel antiquities Authority pointed out that “the wine press at Hamei Yoav and three similar wine presses are located along the ancient road leading from Beth Guvrin to ancient Ashkelon and its port, to facilitate the transportation and exportation of the wine to Ashkelon and from the port of Ashkelon to Europe and North Africa.”
The wine press will undergo conservation and will be incorporated into the modern complex of the garden project near the spa of Hamei Yo’av.