Egyptians Loved Their Tel Aviv Beer – 5,000 Years Ago

Archaeologists find ancient pottery used to make the ‘Egyptian national drink’ in what (much) later would become the ‘first modern Hebrew city.’

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Diego Barkan, director of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, shows fragments of ancient basins unearthed at an archaeological dig in a future construction site in Tel Aviv.
Diego Barkan, director of the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority, shows fragments of ancient basins unearthed at an archaeological dig in a future construction site in Tel Aviv.Credit: Reuters
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Tel Aviv-area residents already knew how to appreciate good beer 5,000 years ago, say Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists, whose excavations near the Maariv Bridge in central Tel Aviv turned up fragments of pottery used to make beer.

The excavation has also uncovered 17 pits used for storage of agricultural produce from the early Bronze Age, from 3000-3500 B.C.E. In addition, the archaeologists found a copper dagger and flint from around 6,000 years ago, during the Chalcolithic period. The dig is being conducted at a site where two residential buildings and an underground parking lot are slated to be built.

“We knew there was an archaeological site here because there had been two previous excavations, one in 1980 and one in 2008,” said Diego Barkan, who is supervising the dig for the antiquities authority. “We started doing salvage excavations and it turned out we have 17 pits here, all full of findings, large ceramic vessels, jars, pots, and basins. It all belongs to the local industry from 3500 B.C.E. to 3000 B.C.E.

“Among all these local vessels we found that some of them did not match the local traditions. These vessels belonged to Egyptians who lived in the land of Israel,” he said.

“The Egyptians came here because they don’t have a lot of raw materials, primarily trees,” he explained. “In the Land of Israel they established communities primarily in northwestern Sinai, the northern Negev and the southern coastal plain. The northernmost spot they reached was Azur or Lod. Now, for the first time, we have discovered an Egyptian population that reached central Tel Aviv in 3100 B.C.E.

“What’s special is that these jars were used to make beer in Egypt,” Barkan continued. “At other sites where these same basins were discovered, there was leftover barley from the beer found on the bottom of them. We also found oysters, some from the Mediterranean and some from the Red Sea. The oysters from the Red Sea link are the link to the Egyptian population that came to Israel.”

'Egyptian national drink'

The antiquities authority notes that beer was the “Egyptian national drink” in ancient times; it was a staple item, like bread. Beer was consumed by the entire population, regardless of age, gender or class. It was made from a blend of barley and water that was partly baked and then left to ferment in the sun. Various fruit concentrates were added to the mixture to add taste. The mixture was then filtered in special vessels and prepared for use. In excavations in the Nile Delta area, breweries were discovered indicating that beer was manufactured by the middle of the fourth century B.C.E.

At this point it still isn’t known whether the pottery found originated here or in Egypt, Barkan said. “After we do the archaeological excavations, we’ll take all the findings to the labs, and then we’ll be able to know if the vessels were brought from Egypt or whether the Egyptian population imitated the vessels they knew in Egypt,” he said.

Employees of the Israel Antiquities Authority work at a site where fragments of pottery used by Egyptians to make beer and dating back 5,000 years have been discovered in Tel Aviv, on March 29, 2015. photo by AFP

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