While conducting recent excavations before the construction of new office buildings on Hamasger Street in downtown Tel Aviv, archaeologists discovered 17 ancient pits used to store agricultural produce during the early Bronze Age, between 3500 and 3000 B.C. When they looked inside these pits, they found pottery typical of the local tradition at the time, but they also uncovered something quite different: fragments of the kind of large ceramic basins traditionally used by ancient Egyptians to brew the beer that was a staple of their diet.
Previous excavations in the Delta region of Egypt have shown that ancient Egyptians were producing beer as early as the mid-fourth millennium B.C. Archaeologists think the entire population—regardless of class, gender and age—consumed beer, which has been referred to as ancient Egypt’s “national drink.” Ancient Egyptians brewed beer by mixing barley and water, partially baking the thick mixture and fermenting it in the sun; they then added various fruit concentrates for flavor and aroma.
Though evidence of ancient Egyptian communities has been discovered further south in Israel, in the Negev region and along its Mediterranean coast, the excavation of the brewery equipment in Tel Aviv is the first evidence of Egyptian settlement so far north. As Diego Barkan, who directed the excavation for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), told Ynet News: “Now we know that the ancient Egyptians also appreciated what the Tel Aviv region had to offer, and were able to enjoy a glass of beer, just like today’s Tel Avivians.”
Alongside hundreds of pieces of pottery typical of the local culture, the ceramic basin fragments unearthed in Tel Aviv stood out because straw and other organic materials had been integrated into the clay to strengthen it. This technique was not common in local pottery-making at the time, but similar straw-tempered vessels have been found at Egyptian sites, such as the administrative building excavated at En Besor, in southern Israel. The archaeologists plan to conduct a study to determine whether the Egyptian-style vessels were brought to Tel Aviv from Egypt, or whether Egyptian members of the population imitated the type of pottery-making they knew from Egypt.
In addition to the beermaking equipment, the IAA archaeologists who excavated the construction site announced they had found a copper dagger and flint and stone tools dating to the Chalcolithic period, some 6,000 years ago. They also discovered 5,000-year-old bones of wild boar, sheep and goats, and the remains of oysters that they traced to the Mediterranean and Red Seas.