Last year, archaeologists discovered a huge hoard of storage vessels in a 6,000 square meter Bronze Age palace at Tel Kabri, located in what is now Israel. Known to be the largest wine cellar to ever be discovered, it is also the oldest known wine cellar within the known East, dating back to between 3,600 and 3,900 years. Now, a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE has revealed the results of an analysis conducted on residue found inside the jars, showing up the biomarkers of wine as well as a complex mixture of herbal additives. According to an article published in J Space News, ancient alcoholic beverages have shown potential in the fight against both lung and colon cancer.
The organic residue analysis using mass spectrometry revealed that the beverage included ingredients and additives such as honey, storax resin, terebinth resin, tartaric and syringic acid, cedar oil, cyperus, juniper, and possibly mint, myrtle, and cinnamon.
“This wasn’t moonshine that someone was brewing in their basement, eyeballing the measurements. This wine’s recipe was strictly followed in each and every jar,” said Brandeis University chemist Andrew Koh. The researchers suggest that humans at the time had a sophisticated understanding of plants and skills necessary to produce a complex beverage that balanced preservation, palatability, and psychoactivity.
From the moment the first alcoholic beverages were discovered, man has used it as a medicine. Apart from the stress relieving, relaxing nature that alcohol has on the body and mind, alcohol is an antiseptic and in higher doses has anesthetizing effects. But it is a combination of alcohol and natural botanicals, which creates a far more effective medicine and has been used as such for thousands of years. It is the origin of the most famous toast, “Let’s drink to health”, which exists in many languages around the world.
Professor Patrick McGovern, Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Project for Cuisine of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, has spent the last two decades researching how ancient alcoholic beverages can be used in the fight against modern day diseases such as cancer. His research has shown that these ancient alcohols show significant anti-cancer activity. In particular, Professor McGovern’s research has found that certain additives in these ancient alcoholic beverages have shown positive activity against lung and colon cancer, and his plan for the future is to test against lung cancer in animal models.
Through different fields of scientific endeavor coming together, the discovery of the wine vessels in Tel Kabri not only sheds light on ancient wine production and palatial social practices of the time, it also has the potential to aid in future medical practices.