Hundreds of Unopened Wine Jars Unearthed in Egyptian Queen’s Tomb

Archaeologists found the 5,000-year-old jars with well-preserved grape seeds and intact stoppers

The jars at the dig site
5000-year-old wine jars at the tomb of Queen Meret-Neith, some of which are still sealed EC Köhler / University of Vienna

While excavating the tomb of the Egyptian Queen Meret-Neith in Abydos, archaeologists discovered hundreds of 5,000-year-old wine jars.

Many of the vessels were sealed, with stoppers still intact. Some even held the remains of well-preserved grape seeds.

Dig leader Christiana Köhler, an archaeologist at the University of Vienna, was surprised by the pristine condition of the wine jars and other grave goods in Meret-Neith’s tomb.

“Considering that these are the remains of people’s lives and actions from 5,000 years ago, we are stunned every day at the amazing detail we encounter during our investigations, including the perfectly preserved grape seeds, craftwork and even footprints in the mud,” Köhler tells Artnet’s Adam Schrader.

Preserved grape seeds
Preserved grape seeds from Queen Meret-Neith's tomb at Abydos EC Köhler / University of Vienna

Further analysis of the vessels could shed new light on the art of ancient winemaking, as Emlyn Dodd, an archaeologist at England’s Institute of Classical Studies who was not involved with the research, tells Newsweek’s Aristos Georgiou.

“The discovery of sealed, intact wine jars at Abydos, along with well-preserved grape pips, has the potential to significantly build our understanding of some of the earliest wine production, use and trade in the ancient Mediterranean and North Africa,” says Dodd. He adds: “Analysis of the residues left inside the jars, for example, could illuminate the chemical composition of the wine that was once inside, revealing its flavor profile and any additive ingredients that were used.”

In addition to the wine jars, Köhler’s team is hoping to learn more about the life of Meret-Neith, who lived around 3000 B.C.E. Excavations in the tomb also revealed inscriptions suggesting that the Egyptian queen was in charge of important governmental offices, including the royal treasury. 

“She was probably the most powerful woman of her time, and today’s researchers speculate that Meret-Neith may have been the first female pharaoh in ancient Egypt,” says the team in a statement from the University of Vienna.

Tomb complex
The tomb complex of Queen Meret-Neith in Abydos during excavation EC Köhler / University of Vienna

Other scholars dispute these claims, arguing that women rarely served as rulers during this early period of Egyptian history. 

“Wives and daughters were not typically considered in terms of royal successions,” Margaret Maitland, principal curator of ancient Mediterranean collections at National Museums Scotland, tells Live Science’s Sascha Pare. Still, Meret-Neith seems to have enjoyed “an unusually high level of authority for a royal woman,” she adds.

The Egyptian queen’s vast burial complex also includes the tombs of 41 servants and courtiers. Based on their analysis, the researchers say these tombs were built in several stages over a long stretch of time. This conclusion challenges the idea that ritual human sacrifice was part of royal Egyptian burials during this period, “which was often assumed in early research but never really proven,” per the statement. 

Excavations at the tomb are ongoing, and the team hopes to unravel more of the mysteries surrounding Meret-Neith’s life and influence in Egypt. As Köhler tells Live Science, “I’m almost sure that once we have completed the excavation of this huge complex, we will know more.”

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