The Tel Kabri excavations have uncovered the oldest and largest wine cellar in the ancient Near East, as part of the storage rooms of the Middle Bronze Age Canaanite palace. In the first of several posts, Kabri participant Henry Curtis Pelgrift describes below the first two weeks of excavation of additional storage rooms associated with the palace’s wine cellar. For more on the 2015 season at Tel Kabri, read “Journey to Jerusalem: A Tel Kabri Dig Weekend,” “Closing Down Kabri: The Last Week of the 2015 Season at Tel Kabri” and “The Results of the 2015 Season at Tel Kabri.”
Tel Kabri is in the Western Galilee (northwestern Israel), a few miles from the seaside town of Nahariyya. Kabri is most famous for its large Middle Bronze IIB Canaanite palace dating to the early to mid-second millennium B.C. The palace lies under the shallow layers of a low but massive tell, surrounded by acres of cultivated fields covered by a thick growth of avocado plants. Our crew stays at a field school near the ancient port of Achziv. We are near the beach, with air-conditioned rooms and excellent food, but it is a bit of a trek to reach any stores.
Looking back, a truly historic event of the 2013 season was the discovery of two storage rooms in “Area D-West,” to the west of the palace, containing about 40 tall ceramic wine storage jars, most of which were restorable. In November 2013, at the ASOR meeting in Baltimore, MD, Kabri codirectors Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa and Eric H. Cline of the George Washington University announced that the storage rooms represented one of oldest and largest palatial wine cellars in history. The Kabri website says, “We found the oldest and largest wine cellar in the ancient Near East.” In November 2013, Kabri associate director Andrew Koh of Brandeis University also announced that residue analysis confirmed that the large ceramic jars contained wine in antiquity. (See www.nytimes.com/2013/11/23/science/in-ruins-of-palace-a-wine-with-hints-of-cinnamon-and-top-notes-of-antiquity.html and digkabri2015.wordpress.com.)
In prior years, beginning with the excavations of Aharon Kempinski in the 1980s, plaster from Minoan-style wall and ceiling frescoes had been found in the palace, the earliest examples of Aegean-style art in the Near East. We hope to find additional plaster fragments—especially painted ones—in the 2015 season. (For more on the 2013 season, see the Preliminary Report and visit the Kabri website.
Unlike in previous seasons, when many of the volunteers at Kabri were returning veterans, the crew this year is made up almost entirely of first-time volunteers and a sprinkling of experienced archaeologists who are new to the site. When we arrived on Saturday, June 13, the field school was abuzz with volunteers who, though shy at first, were eager to learn and meet new people, and after about three days, they had settled in and were working like pros.
During week one, our immediate focus was the south wine cellar/storage room and a third storage room found later than the first two rooms. The north room had been almost completely excavated in 2013, but not the south, where work had just begun at the end of the season and six jars had been found. The south room and the third room are where our stalwart crew resumed uncovering the ancient trappings of wine cellars, with unofficial naming privileges for each jar going to the person who found it first. Unlike in previous seasons, we are confining our work exclusively to D-West this year.
To excavate the storage rooms as quickly as possible in the four short weeks allotted to us, the crew has been split into two shifts—morning and afternoon—for each work day. This works very well in the cramped storage room spaces, which allow only a few people to work there at any one time, and we have found that it is an incredibly efficient technique. In splitting the crew, we are following the procedure used in the last weeks of the 2013 season—a first for an academic archaeological dig.
The two groups consist of field students, on the one hand, and participant volunteers, on the other, with responsibility for the morning and afternoon shifts rotating daily. One group wakes up at 4:00 AM and is at the site by 5:00 AM, working until 1:00 PM, and then spends the afternoon on pottery washing and other necessary tasks as needed. Meanwhile, the other group works the afternoon shift, from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM, with “afternoon” activities in the morning. For instance, on Wednesday of week two, I was on the afternoon shift, so I woke up late, at 7:00 AM, and in the morning, did some laundry, had breakfast with everyone and did pottery washing, cataloging and other ”afternoon” activities. Then, in the afternoon, I relaxed, had lunch, and went to the site for my shift, after which I went to dinner, courtesy of the Druze, and a lecture.
After a grueling—but enjoyable—first week at the site, a goodly number of us rewarded ourselves with a weekend in the Old City in Jerusalem. Visiting the international public houses in the Old City is a time-honored tradition for archaeologists on these weekend pilgrimages, and it is customary to take on ample quantities of the refreshments offered by these establishments. So, this past weekend, we found ourselves at the beautifully-decorated Armenian Tavern, with its massive plates of food and tasty delights, and the infamous Putin Pub, with its many unique and interesting cocktails.
So, after our first weekend of rest and recuperation, we charged back into the field this past week, ready to dig in again!
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