Archaeologists Seek Prehistoric Man in Israel, Find British Soldiers' Liquor Bottles From WWI

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The assemblage of bottles that was revealed in the excavation
The assemblage of bottles that was revealed in the excavation.Credit: Clara Amit, IAA
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

While rooting about for remains of prehistoric man dating back about a quarter-million years, archaeologists in Israel discovered a huge stash of liquor bottles daring back to World War I.

And yes, again the discovery was made during roadworks, this time building a new road going around the city of Lod, in central Israel.

The century-old bottles were probably left there by British soldiers, going by the fact that they were found near where the Brits were garrisoned during the war, by Kibbutz Netzer Sereni. There were a lot of bottles.

The bottles were found with a pile of rubbish that included broken crockery and cutlery – and "an enormous number of soft drink and liquor bottles. In fact, about 70% of the waste that was discarded in the refuse pit were liquor bottles. It seems that the soldiers took advantage of the respite given them to release the tension by frequently drinking alcohol," speculates Ron Toueg, excavation director for the IAA.

A soda bottle with the manufacturer's name.Credit: Assaf Peretz / Israel Antiquities Authority
A bottle of Dewar's, no less, left behind by British troops in Israel during World War I.Credit: Assaf Peretz, IAA
A bottle of London Dry Gin, left behind in Israel by British soldiers during WWI.Credit: Assaf Peretz, IAA

The startling discovery was made some weeks ago, around where telltale flint tools, dating around 250,000 years ago to the Middle Paleolithic era had been found by investigators of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

So what were the British warriors imbibing while housed in what seems to have been an Ottoman-era agricultural building that had been converted into a barracks for them? “Mainly wine, beer, soda and gin, liqueur and whiskey," says Brigitte Ouahnouna, a researcher in the glass department of the Israel Antiquities Authority, adding that the bottles had been imported from Europe.

Also found inside the ex-Ottoman structure were dozens of uniform buttons, belt buckles, bits of riding equipment, and other artifacts that had belonged to British soldiers, the IAA stated. "The building caught fire and collapsed for a reason which at this point is unclear," says Toueg.

The assemblage of bottles that was revealed in the excavation. Credit: Clara Amit / Israel Antiquities Authority

Another find was the silver tip of a swagger stick stamped as belonging to a Royal Flying Corps officer.

Sary Mark, architect, conservator and an authority on the British army’s occupation of Palestine, explains the background of the unusual find.

“On November 15, 1917 the Egyptian Expeditionary Force under the command of General Allenby conquered the area around the towns of Lod and Ramla," in central Israel, Mark explains. "Before occupying Jerusalem the army encamped in the area where the archaeological excavation took place: the headquarters at Bir Salam – Ramla Camp and Sarafand Camp. The army was based there for about nine months until a decision was made to continue the conquest of the country

It bears explaining that while Israel isn't riddled with antique whiskey bottles, prehistoric sites are legion. This land was on the route by which Man, of whatever species, left Africa, on several occasions. Among the unusual and intriguing prehistoric finds are evidence of fire control on the Carmel 350,000 years ago, tortoise cuisine some 400,000 years ago, and animal fat residue found on stone tools dating back 500,000 years.

The sort of trash left behind by the British garrison during WWI, including bottles of liquor.Credit: Assaf Peretz, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority