A rare find of a first century fermented fish sauce factory holds clues to the ancient Jewish diet.
From the first century B.C.E. to the seventh century C.E., the ancient Romans were a dominant force in the Middle East. As Anthony J. Saldarini points out in Babatha’s Story (Biblical Archaeology Review, March/April 1998), “Independent, self-contained ethnic groups unrelated to their surroundings are a scholar’s fantasy. The social and political world these [first-century Jewish] people lived in was Greco-Roman.” Archaeological evidence has shown that ancient Jews of Jesus’ time wore Roman clothing. A find announced by the Israel Antiquities Authority further confirms that this cultural influence extended to the predominant local cuisine.
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The site was revived as an industrial area over several time periods, including the 5th century C.E., when a Byzantine-era monastery ran a bustling wine business. The monastery left behind fragments of mosaics and the remains of large kilns, used to fire wine jars.
The excavation where the Ancient Roman Garum factory was found, was led by Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini from the Israel Antiquities Authority. It was underwitten by the Ashkelon Economic Company. Children from Kibbutz Yad Mordecai and students of the Makif Vav middle school volunteered on the project. The Roman site was abandoned and in the Byzantine Period, there is evidence that a monastic community made wine there. Wine presses, which were later turned into refuse pits, were discovered.
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