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W I N E a n d O I L

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The Royal Drink, the Queen of Trees Wine and olive oil come from plants that must be pruned for several years before bearing fruit. Both are processed by crushing in special presses. For these reasons, they represent an initial investment of some risk to the farmer. Grape juice and olive oil are transformed both physically and chemically in the course of their extraction, processing and storage. There can be significant variation in the flavor and structure of the end product in the eastern Mediterranean, thus creating the potential for connoisseurship and differential value.

wine set
inclucding a jar with residual traces of wine on the bottom

The harvesting of grapes took place in August and September and was a joyous occasion for the community. The grapes were dried in the sun and then pressed by barefoot treading, accompanied by dancing and songs. Once the grape juice was collected in a vat, fermentation would begin. After an initial period of vat fermentation, the wine was transferred to jars or skins for additional fermentation. Wine would be allowed to age, as older wine was preferred over new. Before drinking, the wine had to be strained and was usually mixed with water. Wine was often flavored with spices and resins for diversity of taste. Additionally, other fruits such as dates and pomegranates were pressed and fermented to make fruit wines.

Olives were pressed in stone presses. The recovered oil was stored in jars, such as the pithoi containers in the exhibit's reconstructed house. Olive oil was used in cooking, both in frying and as an ingredient in recipes. It could be flavored with spices and used as a condiment. Scents could be added to the oil and used as perfume. Olive oil was also kept in small lamps and burned to illuminate the house.

Already in the Bronze Age, regional variations in wine and olive oil were recognized and valued. The proper presentation and consumption of wine became a symbol of status and power, as witnessed by elaborate wine vessels and the importance of banqueting. In the exhibit is displayed a bronze banqueting bowl and ladle from Gibeon.

The commercial value of Levantine varieties of wine and olive oil lay in their attractiveness to people in neighboring lands. By the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, both wine and olive oil were exported to Egypt. At Gibeon, the excavators found a commercial-scale winery with storage capacity for 25,000 gallons. The wine jars were inscribed in palaeo-Hebrew writing, indicating the vineyard owner for each jar.

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