A bottle of Gordon’s Dry Gin.
(photo credit: ASSAF PEREZ, COURTESY OF IAA)
Despite British soldiers’ fierce fighting in World War I, a cache of that era’s liquor bottles containing their spirits were found intact.
Hundreds of 100-year-old liquor bottles belonging to British soldiers stationed in Israel during the war were recently unearthed by archeologists from the Antiquities Authority in central Israel’s Ramle region, near a building where the troops were garrisoned.
According to the Antiquities Authority, the excavation in the fields of Kibbutz Netzer Sereni was carried out as part of the construction of Highway 200, initiated and financed by the Netivei Israel Company.
Near the bottles, 250,000-year-old flint tools from the Middle Palaeolithic period were also discovered.
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The excavation’s director, Ron Toueg, said on Wednesday that the historical evidence offers a rare glimpse into the soldiers’ leisure activities.
“The discovery of this site and the finds in it provide us with an opportunity for a glimpse of the unwritten part of history, and to reconstruct for the first time the everyday life and leisure of the soldiers,” Toueg said. “We exposed a building whose upper part was not preserved, which was apparently the foundation of a barracks.
This structure was used for agricultural purposes in the Ottoman period, and during World War I the British converted it for military use, and soldiers were housed in it.”
Inside the building, Toueg said researchers also discovered dozens of uniform buttons, belt buckles, parts of riding equipment, and other artifacts that were the property of the British soldiers. He noted that the building caught fire and collapsed for unknown reasons.
A few meters away, he said the site where the soldiers discarded debris was found.
“We were surprised to discover that along with broken crockery and cutlery there was an enormous number of soft-drink and liquor bottles,” he said. “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.”
Brigitte Ouahnouna, a researcher in the Glass Department of the Antiquities Authority, said that this is the first time in the history of archeology in Israel that an assemblage of hundreds of glass bottles from a British army camp from WWI was uncovered.
“Interestingly, the glass bottles, which contained mainly wine, beer, soda and alcoholic beverages such as gin, liquor and whiskey, came from Europe to supply soldiers and officers in the camp,” Ouahnouna said. “It is a fascinating testimony of the everyday life of the British military camp a century ago.”
Another interesting item unearthed in the excavation, with the help of archeologist Shahar Crispin, was the tip of a swagger stick that belonged to a Royal Flying Corps officer.
“Swagger sticks such as these were usually carried by senior officers as a symbol of authority,” Ouahnouna said. “Its tip is made of silver, and it is stamped with the symbol of the corps and the initials RFC.”
Sary Mark, an architect, conservator and an authority on the British army’s occupation of Palestine, said that on November 15, 1917, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, under the command of General Allenby, conquered the area around the towns of Lod and Ramle.
“Before occupying Jerusalem, the army encamped in the area where the archeological excavation took place: the headquarters at Bir Salam – Ramle Camp and Sarafand Camp,” Mark said.
“The army was based there for about nine months until a decision was made to continue the conquest of the country further north,” Mark added.