Rare Byzantine-era wine seeds found in Negev

Grape seeds discovered that were used to cultivate region’s finest wine 1,500 years ago.

THE ANCIENT wine seeds discovered by archeologists in southern Israel. (photo credit: COURTESY OF PROF. GUY BAR-OZ)
THE ANCIENT wine seeds discovered by archeologists in southern Israel.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF PROF. GUY BAR-OZ)
Ancient grape seeds once cultivated in the Western Negev to make one of the finest wines during the Byzantine era some 1,500 years ago were recently discovered in the desert, the Antiquities Authority announced on Wednesday.
An analysis of the charred seeds, found during a joint expedition between the authority and the University of Haifa, determined that the seeds were pioneered to produce what was considered to be one of the most sought after wines of the Byzantine empire, known as the “Wine of the Negev.”
Prof. Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa, who led the excavation, said the vines that produced the grapes did not survive, leading to questions of where the seeds originated from.
According to historians of the Byzantine period, the wine made with the seeds was extremely expensive at the time, and consumed by the empire’s elite.
Bar-Oz, who worked with Haifa’s Dr. Lior Weisbrod Zinman and the Antiquities Authority’s Dr. Tali Erickson- Gini, said the seeds were found while the researchers were examining the rise and fall of Byzantine society in the Negev.
The seeds, found after the rigorous excavation and sifting of an ancient pile of botanical and animal remains, provide evidence of unprecedented growth in the Western Negev during ancient times, he said.
While many of the wines cultivated in the Negev today are from seeds originally from Europe, Bar- Oz added that it remains unclear where the ancient seeds originated from.
“Our next task is to restore the ancient wine” to make the determination, he said.
Noting that European grape vines require copious amounts of water, Bar-Oz said that vines that could survive the arid Negev conditions are rare.
“It is interesting to think about local grape varieties, which are better suited to the Negev,” he said. “Maybe the international prestige of the wine was that the vines survived the dry conditions of the Negev?” To determine the wine’s origin, Bar-Oz said the next stage of his study will be to work with biologists to sequence the DNA of the seeds.