A 3,700 year old royal wine cellar discovered in Israel – destroyed by an earthquake?

Researchers have discovered the remains of a royal wine cellar at the Tel Kabri archaeological site in Northern Israel. They found ~40 crushed jars, which equals about 3,000 bottles, and they were able to analyse the chemistry of the organic traces from the jars. It’s clear that they contained red and white wine, which was spiced with “honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resins” as it was common 1,700 BC. The fact that all jars contained wine with the same chemical fingerprint led the researchers to conclude that the wine had a high quality and was, therefore, likely part of the Canaan palace’ reserve. This is already a pretty good story, but the New York Times also mentiones that “the cellar was destroyed 3,600 years ago in some violent event, perhaps an earthquake“. Yee-haw, archeoseismology! Here we go! But wait – what do we actually know about the earthquake? From the image in the NYT we do not see much, some broken jars only. What would we expect if an earthquake destroyed the cellar? There should be some earthquake archeological effects like these:

Earthquake Archaeological Effetcs (EAEs), after Rodríguez-Pascua et al., 2011.

An event horizon would be nice, with some damaged structures around. Also, we would expect to see some destruction in nearby archaeological sites of the same age – if there are any. Marco (2008) has a nice overview about EAEs in Israel and describes the features that can be observed. Written reports might not exist since 3,700 years is a pretty long time. If the quake made this cellar collapse, it could have triggered some earthquake environmental effects in the vicinity, like rockfalls, liquefaction, cave collapses etc. If it wasn’t only a local event but a major quake that occurred, let’s say, at the Dead Sea Fault (DSF), then those effects could be preserved even at distant sites.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any paper on that story and it seems that the work was only presented at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. The presentation is not online, but it might have been given in the session “A Decade of Investigations at Tel Kabri, Israel: 2003-2013“.So we have to wait for more news and especially for the information that points to earthquake damage. For the moment, we can only check if we have a suitable event from the paleoseismological record. Good thing is that there is a lot of work on the local paleoseismology and archaeoseismology.

Nimrod castle in Northern Israel with beautiful archeoseismological damage.

The site is only 50 km away from the Sea of Galilea (Lake Kinneret), so the paleoseismological record from this part of the DSF would be a good candidate for an earthquake. (It’s only 40 km away from the Carmel Fault in the south…). Marco et al. (2005) did 3D trenching there. They claim two seismic events after 1000 AD and found that the slip rate of the Jordan Fault strand is ~3 mm for the last 5000 years, based on an 15 m offset channel. Braun et al (2012) describe an event 4800 years ago from speleothems in the Denya Cave near Haifa. Katz et al. (2012) report on five earthquakes exceeding magnitude Mw6.0, dated ca. 45, 40, 35, 10, and 5 ka BP. Plus, they found a younger event, but without a more precise time range. Garfunkel (2012) nicely sums up the data available on the Quaternary slip rate, but there’s no clear hint for an event 3,700 years ago – it’s just that the slip rate of the DSF is pretty high. It’s actually so high that a number of quakes must have occurred in the last 5 kyr.

To sum up: We do not have a good earthquake candidate, although the general tectonic setting is favourable and paleoseismicity is really high. Several strong events must have occurred in the last 5,000 years BP, but for our wine cellar we must wait for more info from the archaeologists. An earthquake would make an even better story and I think we could read it in Nature, but there’s a need to make sure that it’s not only catastrophism. The “Minoan Earthquake” on Crete Island is a good example – recent papers reveal that “The hypothesis of a seismic storm causing the demise of Minoan Crete is not supported by our analysis of archaeological evidence.” …

Also modern wine glasses do break – this one didn’t survive the wine tasting during the 2013 PATA Days.



  • Braun, Y., Kagan, E., Bar-Matthews, M., Ayalon, A., Agnon, A. 2012. Dating speleoseismites near the Dead Sea Transform and the Carmel Fault: Clues to coupling of a plate boundary and its branch. Isr. J. Earth Sci. 58: 257-273.
  • Garfunkel, Z. 2012. The long- and short-term lateral slip and seismicity along the Dead Sea Transform: An interim evaluation. Isr. J. Earth Sci.; 58: 217-235.
  • Jusseret, S., Langohr, C. & Sintubin, M., 2013. Tracking Earthquake Archaeological Evidence in Late Minoan IIIB (~1300-1200 B.C.) Crete (Greece): A Proof of Concept. Bull Seism Soc Am 103 (6), doi: 10.1785/0120130070.
  • Katz, O., Amit, R., Yagoda-Biran, G., Hatzor, Y.H., Porat, N., Medvedev, B. 2012. Quaternary earthquakes and landslides in the Sea of Galilee area, the Dead Sea Transform: Paleoseismic analysis and implication to the current hazard. Isr. J. Earth Sci. 58: 275-294.
  • Marco, S., Rockwell, T.K., Heimann, A., Frieslander, U., & Agnon, A. 2005. Late Holocene activity of the Dead Sea Transform revealed in 3D palaeoseismic trenches on the Jordan Gorge segment. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 234, 189-205.
  • Marco, S. (2008): Recognition of earthquake-related damage in archaeological sites: Examples from the Dead Sea fault zone, Tectonophysics 453, 148-156, doi:10.1016/j.tecto.2007.04.011.
  • Rodríguez-Pascua, M.A., Pérez-López, R., Giner-Robles, J.L., Silva, P.G., Garduño-Monroy, V.H., Reicherter, K. 2011. A comprehensive classification of Earthquake Archaeological Effects (EAE) in archaeoseismology: Application to ancient remains of Roman and Mesoamerican cultures. Quaternary International 242  (1), 20-30. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2011.04.044.
submit to reddit

Christoph Grützner

works at the Institute of Geological Sciences, Jena University. He likes Central Asia and the Mediterranean and looks for ancient earthquakes.

See all posts Christoph Grützner


  • Jefferson Williams | November 23, 2013|21:19 (UTC)


    Very nice write up which motivated me to check the Dead Sea Paleosesimic record and send you this FYI comment. Although the Dead Sea is a bit far from the site, the chronological control is better than in the Jordan Valley Trenches. I am trying to get a site studied in Jordan that looks to have true annual varves. If so, we may get some excellent chronological control; especially in the BC times where historical sources are extremely sparse. Claudia Migowski saw two seismites in Ein Gedi from around that time and came up with dates of ~1560 BCE, ~1800 BCE, ~2000 BCE, and ~2050 BCE. I don’t yet have radiocarbon from the site in Jordan but initial guesses from the field work shows 9 fairly evenly spaced earthquakes from around 1500-1900 BCE. The Jordanian site appears to have a local site effect so it records more earthquakes than the Ein Gedi Site. Further, the Jordan site may contain annual varves. We might be able to nail down some very precise dates for earthquakes during BCE times if we can just identify a few anchor events.

    If you are interested, I can send you Claudia’s paper and dissertation (in German). If you want those, email me at Jeff.Wiliams@acousticpulse.com



  • Christoph | November 24, 2013|13:46 (UTC)

    Thanks a lot for the comment! It look slike the 1560 BC EQ is a good candidate, although it could be a little too far away. Would be good to have varve information, I am crossing fingers for your project. Elisa Kagan pointed me to the paper of Alfonsi et al. (2012), who also discuss the 1560 event, and to Kagan et al. (2011). I think Elisa will discuss this here in greater detail, soon.

    Alfonsi et al., 2012: Archaeoseismic Evidence of Two Neolithic (7,500–6,000 B.C.) Earthquakes at Tell es-Sultan, Ancient Jericho, Dead Sea Fault. doi:10.1785/0220110144

    Kagan et al., 2011: Intrabasin paleoearthquake and quiescence correlation of the late Holocene Dead Sea. doi:10.1029/2010JB007452

Leave a Comment