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

Location: Barcelona, Spain


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 wine history through the documentation and analysis of the archaeological evidences (iconography, texts, wine-jars and related objects and organic remains), and to highlight its influence on ancient Greek, Roman and the modern wine cultures.


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].

Study of the Colour of Ancient Egyptian Wines

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].

The Viticulture and Winemaking Scenes Study

The present paradigm on wine history states that the viticulture was originated in the Near East and that Europe’s wine culture is a heritage of ancient Greece and Rome. However, the Egyptian wine culture is one of the world’s most ancient, and the one for which we have the most extensive archaeological and iconographic records.

The first phase of the ‘Irep en Kemet’ project has documentated the viticulture and winemaking scenes in the ancient Egyptian private tombs. This was a three-year scientific project (2011-2014), directed by Dr. Maria Rosa Guasch Jané at the Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of the Universidade Nova in Lisbon (Portugal).

The project was 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.

Methodological Plan for the Proposal

After four years of work, the ‘Irep en Kemet’ project research team has developed the first complete database of the viticulture and winemaking scenes from the Ancient Egyptian private tombs. The next step is to incorporate all this information into a geographic information system (GIS) consultable on-line via the projects’ website [], allowing its consultation for all the people interested in Egyptology, the history of wine and wine culture, and Mediterranean and ancient studies.

We plan a three steps methodology addressed to:

  1. Conduct an archaeological survey to Egypt to localise the two unstudied and unpublished ("lost") tombs of the Theban Necropolis with scenes of viticulture and winemaking for further excavation work.
  2. Create a Geographic Information System (GIS) integrated in the web project 'Irep in Kemet' and available on-line, with the tombs with images related to viticulture and winemaking.
  3. Disseminate the project research and results through the web and social networks in the form of articles, books, videos and courses.

The database of the ‘Irep en Kemet, Wine of Ancient Egypt’ project will be an on-line documentation archive contributing to the dissemination and protection of the ancient Egyptian heritage.

The 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.

Videos will be develop and posted on the project’s website explaining the project and the research developed.

Further Research

The project team plans to extend the 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 and other monuments.

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.

Funds Required in the Project

GIS Technology = $25,000

Travel expenses (mission) = $10,000

Videos = $5,000

Total amount required (8 months) = $40,000

Chronology of finds

Having noticed that wine production in ancient Egypt has not been thoroughly studied or documented, the ‘Irep en Kemet’ project team is documenting and studying, for the first time, the complete corpus of viticulture and winemaking scenes depicted on the walls of the ancient Egyptian private tombs, being the most important data to study the history and legacy of wine production in the Mediterranean region.

The different elements of the harvest works and winemaking depicted in the tombs will be classified and analysed considering the elaboration of wine and compared to our traditional European elaboration method. The viticulture and winemaking scenes are being documented and analysed, and the hieroglyphic texts attached to the images translated and studied, to create a database of the Egyptian tombs having viticulture and winemaking scenes.

The Database

Our team is developing a database in two different parts: the bibliography and the scenes of viticulture and winemaking. The research methodology includes the bibliographic compilation with all the books, articles, websites and on-line articles as well as existing databases related to wine, viticulture and winemaking in ancient Egypt. And also the compilation of the all scenes with all the iconography and texts related to viticulture and winemaking in the Egyptian private tombs from the whole archaeological sites in Egypt (Fonseca 2012; Guasch 2012).

The bibliographical database (see example in Figure 2) includes the following items about each reference: serial number, type of article/book, authors, title, website, online link, periodical/ journal/ encyclopaedia/ dictionary, edition, editors, pages, plates/ plans, publisher, place of publication, year of publication, author abbreviation and remarks. It is being recorded in Excel Sheet and presented by Filemaker Pro11 software.

The SCENES database includes the following items (see Figure 3) about each scene: record number and scene description with the different steps according to the theme, that is, viticulture or winemaking. The steps represented in the viticulture scenes include: vinery, taking care of the vine, grape harvest and counting the baskets. In the winemaking scenes, the steps represented are: transporting grapes to a press, pressing grapes, heating and filtering, pressing the remains in a sack press, filling wine jars, fermentation, offerings to goddess Renenutet, wine tasting, sealing the wine jars, labelling wine jars, counting wine jars, transporting wine jars to a cellar, refrigeration during fermentation, and storing wine jars in a cellar. The scene-detail database will also include: scene details, annotations, scene type and scene condition, text (inscriptions and translation) and image/photo, dating (period, dynasties and kings), location (provenance, governorate, archaeological site), provenance (governorate, archaeological site, tomb name and number, and location inside the tomb) and present location (if it is the same as provenance, if it’s a museum then location inside the museum and inventory number, and others if it’s not a museum). Finally, the tomb information (type of tomb, tomb’s owner and name and titles of the tomb’s owner) will be included and the bibliographical references related to the scene will be listed. The data is being recorded in Excel Sheet and presented by Filemaker Pro11 software.

Bibliographical research has been carried out at the United Kingdom libraries:

-       Griffith Institute, Oxford University (

-       Sackler library, Oxford University (

-       The Egypt Exploration Society (EES) in London (

-       Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan of The British Museum in London (, in London.

Furthermore, the different elements of the grape harvest and wine production that are depicted in the tombs are going to be analysed, classified and then compared to the traditional winemaking method. The wine production and any representation of the three kinds of wines (white wine, red wine and shedeh) will be investigated. The hieroglyphic texts accompanying the scenes will be studied, categorized, and the translation and commentary will be included. Moreover, the titles of the owners of these tombs having viticulture and winemaking scenes will be studied to unveil the existence of wine-makers, and to know the different specific titles related with wine production.

Present Research and Future Goals

At this moment, we are on the second year of the project. We have completed the bibliographical database, which has now more than 190 entries, and we are finishing the scenes database compilation with more than 100 tombs, some of them unpublished. We have recorded images and unpublished scenes from the Theban necropolis using the archives of the Griffith Institute in Oxford University (UK), the British Museum in London (UK) and the Metropolitan Museum in New York (USA).

The next step will be the development of the project website with both databases and including the unpublished images of the scenes of viticulture and winemaking in the Egyptian tombs. This information will be accessible to the scientific community and the general public approaching our research to a

We plan to develop a photographic survey on the unpublished tombs in Egypt in 2013 and do research on the Egyptology libraries in Cairo:

-       Institut Français d’Archeologie Oriental (IFAO,,

-       American University in Cairo (AUC,

The expected results, apart from compiling all the corpus of relieves and paintings in scenes of Egyptian tombs, and making it available for researchers and general public who might be interested, are to unveil the high level of ancient Egyptians in manufacturing of wine as we can see in the detailed information recorded in the New Kingdom inscriptions on amphorae.

Knowledge Transfer

Project’s preliminary results have been presented as oral communications IN CONGRESSES.

A lecture and a poster entitled “Irep en Kemet Project: Creating the corpus of wine in Ancient Egypt” has been presented in the Fourth International Euromediterranean Conference (Euromed 2012) on Cultural Heritage and Digital Libraries, Amathus (Cyprus), 29th October-3rd November 2012.

A lecture entitled “Complete Study of Viticulture and Winemaking in the Egyptian Tombs: Database Compilation of wine iconography in Ancient Egypt” was presented in the IV Jornadas de Jovens em Investigação Arqueológica (JIA) held at University of Algarve, Faro (Portugal), 11th-14th May 2011.

We also presented the project to the History Department at Viçosa University (Brasil): “Irep en Kemet, the Wine of Ancient Egypt", The origins of wine culture in the Mediterranean, Universidade Federal de Viçosa, Brazil, September 25th 2012.

And to a more general public “Historia del vi a l’antic Egipte” at Club Torres, organized by Torres Winery at the School of Tourism, Universitat de Barcelona, Barcelona (Spain) in June 28th-30th and July 6th-8th, 11th 2011.

Preliminary results have been PUBLISHED in four ARTICLES:

-       Guasch-Jané, M.R., Fonseca, S., Ibrahim, M. “Irep en Kemet project: creating the corpus of wine in ancient Egypt”, Fourth International Euro-Mediterranean Conference (Euromed 2012) on Cultural Heritage and Digital Libraries, Amathus (Cyprus), 29th October -3rd November 2012, Progress in Cultural Preservation Short Papers (2012): 181-86.

-       Fonseca, S., Ibrahim, M. “Documentation of viticulture and winemaking in the Egyptian tombs”, Actas JIA 2011 (2012), vol. 1: 17-22.

-      Fonseca, S., Guasch-Jané, M.R., Ibrahim, M. “El vino en antiguo Egipto”, Revista Club Torres (2012): 65.

-       Fonseca, S., Guasch-Jané, M.R., Ibrahim, M. “O vinho no antigo Egipto: uma história mediterrânea”, Mundo Antigo 1 (2011): 131-46.

Duration of project:
8 months (May 1, 2016-December 30, 2016)
Bibliography CV of proposer
Contact Information
Institut d’Estudis del Pròxim Orient Antic (IEPOA)
Edifici Mòdul de Recerca A (MRA), portes 010 i 011.
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Campus de Bellaterra
(Cerdanyola del Vallès)


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