Irep en Kemet Project: Documenting the Corpus of Wine in Ancient Egypt
Partnership Opportunity


Tomb of Nakht at Thebes
Bibliographical databaseScene database
Location: Lisbon, Portugal

The main goal of the Project ‘Irep en Kemet’, Wine of Ancient Egypt, is to investigate the role and significance of the ancient Egyptian wine culture in the history of wine through the documentation and analysis of the corpus of wine in Ancient Egypt (iconography, texts, wine-jars and related objects), and to highlight its influence on ancient Greek, Roman and the modern wine cultures.

Our project starts the documentation of the corpus of wine in ancient Egypt with the viticulture and winemaking scenes in the ancient Egyptian tombs. This is a three-year scientific project, intended to run from December 30th 2010 until April 30th 2014, that is directed by Dr. Maria Rosa Guasch Jané at the Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of the Universidade Nova in Lisbon (Portugal).

The project is funded by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) of the Portuguese Ministry of Education and Science, and it was gained through the competitive funding program Research & Development Projects in all Scientific Domains-2009 (90,000€).

The research team consists of Sofia Fonseca, Archaeologist and Egyptologist, Mahmoud Ibrahim, Egyptologist and Linguist, and Maria Rosa Guasch Jané, PhD in Pharmacy and Egyptologist.

Due to the fact that some of the work we plan to do and the human resources are not financially supported by the FCT in 2014 and also because we have no founds to extend our work from May 2014, we present this proposal hoping that you find it relevant and interesting to be supported.

We will need this amount to be able to finish the research and disseminate the results publishing several articles and one book with the corpus of images.

This project will be a step forward in understanding wine culture in Antiquity and will open a new field of study in Egyptology.


In Ancient Egypt, wine was a prestigious drink consumed mainly by royalty and the elite, presented to guests at banquets for entertainment, offered to gods in daily temple rituals and used in medical treatments. The ancient Egyptian wine culture is one of the world’s most ancient and with the most extensive records on wine production. Since the Predynastic Period (4000-3100 BC), wine jars were placed in the Egyptian tombs as funerary offerings.

Scenes of viticulture and winemaking were depicted on the walls of private tombs from the Old Kingdom Period (2575-2150 BC) through the Graeco-Roman times (332 BC-395 AD). The different steps include: grape harvest, treading, pressing, fermentation, closing the jars, stamping and labelling the jars, and finally storing the jars in the cellar [Tallet 1998; Murray 2000; Guasch-Jané 2008]. For example, in a scene from Nakht’s tomb [Figure 1] at Thebes (present Luxor) and dated to the Eighteenth Dynasty (1539-1292 BC), the grape harvest and the winemaking are represented: to the right, the scene shows two workers picking up the red grapes by hand and putting them in baskets; to the left, a group of four men are pressing the grapes in a vat with their feet and, besides this, there is a man taking the red juice (the must) that flows out while, on the top, the amphorae are sealed with a mud stopper.

During the New Kingdom Period (1539-1075 BC), wine jars [amphorae] had hieratic inscriptions on ink with details of the harvest: the year, the name of the product (irp [Erman 1926], which is wine, or shedeh [Erman 1930], a wine with a more elaborate preparation], the quality, the provenance, the property (royal, temple or private) and the name and title of the winemaker. Like the labels in the modern bottles of wine, the inscriptions on the New Kingdom wine jars give us information about the harvest and wine production [Guasch 2010]. These inscriptions on amphorae reveal that the ancient Egyptians considered this information relevant and necessary to be able to distinguish between wines. It was extremely important to know the vintage and the provenance of the product.

However, it is curious that no mention was made concerning the colour of wine, either white or red, on the inscriptions or any other documents. The symbolism of the ancient Egyptian wines was based on its red colour, not only because of the relation established between wine and the blood of the resurrection god Osiris, but also because of the reddish colour of the River Nile during the annual flood -with ferruginous sediments coming from the Ethiopian mountains-, when the harvest time for grapes started [Poo 1986, 1995]. Grapes and the wine were symbol of resurrection, and this is still in use in Coptic iconography today.

The Egyptian mythology related the wine only to the red colour, and no textual references to white wine from the Dynastic period (3100-343 BC) have been found in Egypt up to now.

The origin of the European wine culture is widely regarded as Greek and Roman. Classical authors, such as the Latin poet Virgil (70-19 BC), Strabo (1st century BC) or Athenaneus of Naucratis (2nd-3rd century AD), spoke about the quality of the Egyptian wines. The first mention of white wine in Egypt is from Athenaeus of Naucratis, in his book The Deipnosophistae he explains that Mareotis wine, in the area of Lake Mariut near Alexandria, was “excellent, white and enjoyable, aromatic…” [Athenaeus 1961].


In order to study the kind (colour) of the wines that were made in ancient Egypt, we developed an analytical method [Guasch-Jané et al 2004] for archaeological residues of wine using the liquid chromatography mass spectrometry in tandem (LC/MS/MS) technique. Two compounds were identified in archaeological residue samples from Tutankhamun’s amphorae: tartaric acid, as grape marker, and syringic acid derived from malvidin, the latter being the main compound responsible for the red colour of grapes and wines, as red grape marker [Guasch-Jané et al 2004, 2008]. The results revealed, for the first time, that in the New Kingdom Period (1539-1075 BC) three kinds of wines were made: red [Guasch-Jané 2004, 2008], white [Guasch-Jané et al 2006a, 2008] and a more elaborate red wine, called shedeh [Guasch-Jané 2006b, 2008].

The analytical results added new information to the inscription on the amphorae: about the type of wine they contained.

The origin and nature of the shedeh, which has no translation, was a mystery since a century ago, with pomegranates or grapes having been proposed as a raw material. According to Salt papyrus 825 in the British Museum (BM 10051) of the Late Period (715-332 BC), the only text found so far that mentions the elaboration of the shedeh, it was filtered and heated; nevertheless, due to damage in the Salt papyrus, the botanical source of shedeh remained unknown [Derchain 1965; Tallet 1995, 2010; Guasch-Jané, 2008]. The results of analysing a sample of a residue from the shedeh amphora found in Tutankhamun’s Burial chamber (JE 62315, Carter no. 206), bearing the inscription “Year 5, shedeh of very good quality of the Estate of Aten of the Western River, chief vintner Rer” [Černy, 1965] confirmed that shedeh was a red grape wine [Guasch-Jané 2006b, 2008].

Recent research suggested the use of the three kinds of wines (a red wine, a white wine and shedeh, respectively) found in Tutankhamun’s Burial chamber were for the King’s three-step resurrection ritual, while the rest of wines found in the Annexe chamber were offerings of the usual kind for sustenance in the afterlife [Guasch-Jané 2011].


Our project starts the documentation of the corpus of wine in ancient Egypt with the viticulture and winemaking scenes, not only because of the extensive information they provide, but also for many aspects that are less studied. Previous studies on Ancient Egyptian wine production only provide records of few of the scenes while several aspects such as the presence of white grapes in the tombs’ iconography, or the elaboration of shedeh, are obscure.

The types and forms of the vines that are represented in the scenes, and the different heights of the vine tree or its shape are still not fully studied and classified. The same for the workers involved in the grape harvest, the way they picked the grapes as well as the kind of baskets they used for transporting the grapes to the press. Furthermore, the type and material of the press (or deposit) where the grapes were treaded needs to be studied in-depth, because these scenes are the only references as no archaeological evidence has been found. Another aspect we aim to study is the extraction of grape juice using a sack-press.

The fermentation process and the closing of the wine-jars, or the strict control of closing and labelling wine-jars during the New Kingdom Period, revealed by the amphorae and their inscriptions, are even more interesting aspects to be investigated.

Regarding the presence of white grapes in the iconography, it is still under discussion. It has been suggested that a tomb from Deir El-Bersheh of the Middle Kingdom Period (1975-1640 BC) may show the production of white wine, since the pressing scene directly follows the harvesting scene where greenish-coloured grapes could be represented [Montet 1913; Murray 2000]. The elaboration of the shedeh represented in the scenes is also doubtful, and there is a unique reference from the tomb of Baqet III (no. 15) in Beni Hassan that might show a filtering and a heating process [Tallet 1995].


We plan a five steps methodology addressed to:

1. Analyse the scenes and translate the texts.

2. Develop a database: We will design and create a database hosted by DBMS to include all the data and the images, which will be accessible on-line to the scientific community and general public and presented using GIS technology.

3. Create an archaeological map of the ancient Egyptian viticulture and winemaking scenes: A Geographic Information System (GIS) will be defined by Miquel Àngel Vargas at Laboratori d’Informació Geogràfica i Teledetecció, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (LIGIT-UAB) and used to construct the project database, which will also include all the scenes. The applications implemented will allow access for further query of the information. Following an initial phase where requirements analysis, functional specifications and interface design will be produced, the system will be developed to provide the tools and applications required to management, support and maintain the database. A user manual will be elaborated.

The databases created during the project (bibliographic and iconographic) will be accessible on-line using GIS technology. An archaeological map of the viticulture and winemaking scenes will be created with the Egyptian archaeological sites, tombs, iconography and texts. We will also develop software applications to handheld devices, such as mobile phones and tablet computers, so that the project’s website can be accessible from almost anywhere at anytime.

4. Technology transfer and dissemination:

We will create a database with the corpus of scenes of viticulture and winemaking and the bibliography related to it. The project’s website [] will allow dissemination of this research and of the archaeological map. The manuscripts that we plan to publish in international peer-reviewed scientific journals with the research results will be posted in the website and also the papers addressed to the general public. Furthermore, the communications in congresses presenting the results of this project will be posted  in the website, as well as the corresponding conference proceedings.

Our aim is to:

4a) Publish one book containing the corpus of scenes of viticulture and winemaking.

4b) Present at least three papers in international peer-reviewed scientific journals.

4c) Develop and post a video explaining the project and the research developed.

4d) Present lectures in 2 congresses: the IV British Egyptology Congress to be held in London in September 2014 and the XI International Congress of the Egyptologists in 2015 (exact dates still not confirmed).

5. Archaeological survey: We will ask for permission to carry out an archaeological survey in 2014 of two of the unstudied and unpublished tombs in Thebes having viticulture and winemaking scenes for further excavation work.


We plan to extend our research to the other aspects related to wine that are represented in the ancient Egyptian iconography: banquet scenes and wine offering scenes in tombs, temples or any other monuments. Furthermore, we also aim to document the wine jars, their inscriptions, and related objects, which will be further included in our project’s website. The expected results are to relate the process of wine elaboration of the ancient Egyptians to the traditional method still used in Europe and to unveil the ancient Egyptian wine culture legacy in the Mediterranean region through the compilation and study of the iconography, texts and artefacts.


GIS Technology=$15,000

Travel expenses (mission and congress)=$8,000


Total amount required (12 months)=$25,500


Doctoral researcher salary=$25,000

Post-doc researcher salary=$35,000

Total amount required (12 months)=$60,000

Chronology of finds
Cost: $85,500
CV of proposer
Contact Information
Institut d’Estudis del Pròxim Orient Antic (IEPOA)
Edifici Mòdul de Recerca A (MRA), portes 010 i 011.
Bellaterra , (Cerdanyola del Vallès)

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