Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University, the University of Haifa, the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Israel Antiquities Authority have analyzed residues from ceramic storage jars unearthed in the Babylonian destruction layer (586 BCE) in Jerusalem, Israel. Five of the jars had rosette stamp impressions on their handles, indicating that their content was related to the Kingdom of Judah’s royal economy. The team’s results, published in the journal PLoS ONE, show that the jars were used for storing olive oil and wine flavored with vanilla.
“During the 7th century BCE, Jerusalem enjoyed unprecedented prosperity, as it grew in size, population and wealth,” said lead author Ayala Amir, a doctoral student in the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and the Department of Organic Chemistry at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and colleagues.
“The integration of Judah into the sphere of the Assyrian and later Egyptian empires, allowed the vassal kingdom to play an important role in the lucrative, long-range south Arabian trade, due to the fact that the main route of this network passed through the Negev — the arid area in its southern sector.”
“Several contemporaneously-composed Biblical texts refer to the Arabian trade, but archaeology was yet to shed light on the commodities transported in this commercial system.”
“The excavation of ceramic storage jars in the debris of the Babylonian (Nebuchadnezzar’s) destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE presented us with an opportunity to examine the content of the vessels using residue analysis.”
In the study, the researchers examined two assemblages of jars that were found in storage rooms in two different locations in Jerusalem.
The first assemblage was from the Giv’ati Parking Lot excavations on the southwestern slope of the Temple Mount.
The storage vessels retrieved from a room belonging to a large public building that was destroyed during the Babylonian devastation of Jerusalem in 586 BCE.
The second assemblage came from a public structure located on the eastern slope of the City of David ridge, to the south of the Temple Mount and above the Gihon Spring.
The jars were found in the middle room of the public structure, which was probably constructed in the 7th century BCE. The room was packed with a thick destruction debris that included collapsed stones and a large quantity of burned pieces of wood — apparently belonging to the room’s ceiling beams.
Four of the restored storage jars from the second site and one from the first bore handles with rosette stamp impressions, dated to the late 7th-early 6th century BCE.
“Rosette-impressed storage jars represent the royal distribution system of the Kingdom of Judah on the eve of the Babylonian assault in 586 BCE,” the scientists noted.
According to the team, all six jars examined from the first site and at least two jars from the second contained wine. In addition to wine-markers, one of the vessels contained biomarkers of olive oil.
The most surprising results were the profiles obtained from the two jars from the second site and three jars from the first, indicating the presence of vanillin.
“Apparently the jars were used for the storage of olive oil and wine — the two typical products of the kingdom under Assyrian domination, and were sealed to avoid oxidation of their contents,” the authors said.
“Residues of vanilla attest to the great prestige of the wine and to the drinking habits of the elite residents of Jerusalem.”
“Vanilla had to be imported from the tropic environments of India or east Africa,” they said.
“Control over the spice trade routes connecting east and west has often been seen as a prime motivator for the Assyrian expansion to the southwest.”
“The identification of vanilla as one such exotic and prestigious product having been brought over by the desert caravans highlights the economic value of this trade.”
“We demonstrate that vanilla used as a wine additive by the kings of Judah and their entourage.”
“The royal elite of the kingdom, residents of Jerusalem, webbed into this trading network, serving as clients of the Assyrian and later Egyptian empires.”
A. Amir et al. 2022. Residue analysis evidence for wine enriched with vanilla consumed in Jerusalem on the eve of the Babylonian destruction in 586 BCE. PLoS ONE 17 (3): e0266085; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0266085