Archaeologists from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) have unearthed a huge wine press and a ceramic model of a church dating back to the early-Byzantine period (5th – 6th centuries CE).
“The wine press, which exceeds 100 m2 in area, consists of three components: a large treading floor paved with ceramic tiles was discovered in the center in which there is a press bed of a screw used to press grapes. Three vats into which the must flowed were revealed along the western side of the treading floor. The collecting vats were carefully designed with slots in their sides that allowed the liquid to flow in a controlled manner and they were treated with hydraulic plaster so as to prevent the must from seeping into the ground,” explained Dr Rina Avner from the IAA.
“Compartments were exposed around the treading floor, which were used for fermenting the grapes upon their arrival from the vineyard and converting them to fine quality wine. In the second stage the grape remnants were pressed a second time by means of the screw situated in the center of the treading floor, from which plain wine was prepared that was referred to in rabbinic sources as paupers wine.”
A ceramic model of a church, a rare find in archaeological research, was found near the wine press. “This object is a kind of clay box that has an accentuated and decorated opening in its broad side. Floral decorations and crosses appear on the other three sides. The roof of the model is fashioned in the shape of a sloped tile roof, and in its four corners are four decorative knobs meant to accentuate the corners. On the top of the roof a large loop handle, also flanked by crosses, was attached for holding or suspending the object. The variety of decorations and building-like features of the object suggest this is a miniature model of a church.”
“Objects of this kind are known from archaeological research as lanterns: they were used as practical ritual objects that were hung or placed inside buildings. An oil lamp inserted into it through the decorated opening illuminated the inside of the model. Since the crosses also served as narrow openings, the light was disseminated via them and shadows of crosses were projected onto the walls of the building where the object was placed,” Dr Avner said.
“Three similar wine presses were found in the region close to the main road leading from Ashkelon, located along the coast, to Bet Guvrin which is in the Judean Shephelah. Ashkelon was a commercial city with a port through which wine from Israel was marketed to the entire Mediterranean Sea basin,” added IAA archaeologist Dr Saar Ganor.