Seeds of Lost Byzantine-era Gaza Wine Found in Negev

If 1,500-year-old grape seeds yield their age-old secrets, we might be able to find out for ourselves just what made Gaza wine so good.

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Some of the charred grape seeds found in the Negev.
Some of the charred grape seeds found in the Negev.Credit: Israel Antiquities Authority

The 1,500-year-old Negev seeds of the grapes that made one of the finest wines in the Byzantine Empire have been found for the first time, the Israel Antiquities Authority has announced.

The excavation turned up hundreds of tiny, charred grape seeds used to produce what was called "the wine of the Negev" or "Gaza wine," after the port from which it was sent to other parts of the empire, such as Egypt, Greece, Italy and Spain. The seeds were found in the ancient garbage dumps of what had been the most important Byzantine city in the Negev, known in Greek as Elusa and in Hebrew as Halutza.

“The vines growing in the Negev today are European varieties, whereas the Negev vine was lost to the world," said Guy Bar-Oz, the University of Haifa archaeology professor who heads the Halutza excavation site. "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.”

The next stage of the study is to work with biologists to sequence the DNA of the seeds in an effort to discover their origin, the antiquities authority said. It said archaeologists have speculated that perhaps the Negev grape required less water than today's European varieties, making it better suited to the arid conditions of the Negev desert.

Once the DNA of the seeds is mapped, local wine growers could attempt to recreate the ancient wine, which documentary evidence from the fifth and sixth centuries indicates was quite popular. If the grape seeds yield their age-old secrets, we may be able to find out for ourselves just what made Gaza wine so good.

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