Byzantine-era seeds of ‘Gaza wine’ found in Negev
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Byzantine-era seeds of ‘Gaza wine’ found in Negev

Handful of 1,500-year-old charred grape seeds could help scientists unlock secret of one of the finest ancient wines

Charred grape seeds found in Halutza could yield the lost makings of a fine ancient wine. (Photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)
Charred grape seeds found in Halutza could yield the lost makings of a fine ancient wine. (Photo credit: Israel Antiquities Authority)

A handful of 1,500-year-old charred grape seeds that were once used to make one of the world’s finest ancient wines was discovered in southern Israel recently, the Israel Antiquities Authority said this week.

They were found in the Negev city of Halutza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, during joint excavations by the University of Haifa and the IAA. The dig was conducted at an ancient garbage dump in the city, some 20 kilometers southwest of Beersheba.

This is the first time these seeds have been found, prompting hopes that the discovery could lead to uncovering the makings of a Byzantine-era wine — “Gaza wine” or “wine of the Negev” — that was most renowned in that period, according to historical accounts.

Director of the excavation, Professor Guy Bar-Oz of the university, told the Daily Mail: “The vines growing in the Negev today are European varieties, whereas the Negev vine was lost to the world.”

“Our next job is to recreate the ancient wine, and perhaps in that way we will be able to reproduce its taste and understand what made the Negev wine so fine,” he added.

The vino was said to be expensive for the era and highly regarded throughout the empire.

The next stage, according to Bar-Oz, would be to work with biologists to uncover the DNA of the seeds, in order to determine their origins. It has not yet been ascertained whether the grapes were local or imported, leading to speculation over whether the fruit may have required less water than today’s variety, making it better suited to desert conditions.

“European varieties require copious amounts of water. Today it is less of a problem thanks to technology, but it is unlikely that that was the case 1,500 years ago,” said Bar-Oz

“Maybe the secret to the Negev wine’s international prestige lay in the method by which the vines were cultivated in the Negev’s arid conditions,” he concluded.

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