Verifying the Source

I’m reading an article on biblical archaeology.  While I have thought this might be a scientific article, I’m not certain.  It doesn’t seem particularly religious in nature – but I’m not sure that I can trust the conclusions.

“It might seem strange, but in the days of the biblical kings, wine flavored with vanilla was a hit. We are not just talking about vanilla overtones, though. According to a recent study by the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and Tel Aviv University, the kings and royals of biblical Judah directly infused their wine with this luxury spice. This is despite the valuable spice having previously been unknown from the Old World before the time of Christopher Columbus. The study demonstrates the wealth and power of Judah and its biblical kings in the days right before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.”

Another article covers the residue in the same wine containers:

“In the year 586 B.C.E., the Babylonians laid waste to Jerusalem in a fury at the rebellion by King Zedekiah of Judah. Ahead of which, we learn – at least some of the elites in Jerusalem were drinking their wine flavored with exotic vanilla, archaeologists revealed on Tuesday.

This startling discovery was a result of residue analysis of shattered wine jars from the time of King Zedekiah, found in two destroyed buildings in Iron Age Jerusalem, researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Israel Antiquities Authority announced. Signals of vanilla were found in five of eight jars, says Dr. Yiftah Shalev of the IAA . . . The analysis was performed by Ayala Amir, a doctoral student at Tel Aviv University, performing the tests in laboratories at the Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, and Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan. “Vanilla markers are an unusual find, especially in light of the fire that occurred in the buildings where the jars were found. The results of the analysis of the organic residues allow me to say with confidence that the jars contained wine and that it was seasoned with vanilla,” she said.”

OK, the Authority and Tel Aviv University seems to be a solid source.  I’m sure they know Israel Antiquities better than I – my archaeology is pretty much limited to North America.  And I’m a bit of an aggie – kind of up on the crops that were developed by American Indians.  And I’m pretty sure that my international ag class taught me that Vanilla was one of those crops developed by American Indians.  Fortunately, the internet offers the other side:

“Long before Europeans took to vanilla’s taste, the creeping vine grew wild in tropical forests throughout Mesoamerica. While the Totonac people of modern-day Veracruz, Mexico, are credited as the earliest growers of vanilla, the oldest reports of vanilla usage come from the pre-Columbian Maya. The Maya used vanilla in a beverage made with cacao and other spices. After conquering the Totonacan empire, the Aztecs followed suit, adding vanilla to a beverage consumed by nobility and known as chocolatl.

The Spanish conquest of the Aztecs in 1519 brought the fragrant flower—and its companion, cacao—to Europe. Vanilla was cultivated in botanical gardens in France and England, but never offered up its glorious seeds. Growers couldn’t understand why until centuries later when, in 1836, Belgian horticulturist Charles Morren reported that vanilla’s natural pollinator was the Melipona bee, an insect that didn’t live in Europe. (A recent study, however, suggests that Euglossine bees may actually be the orchid’s primary pollinator.)

Five years later, on the island of Réunion, a 39-mile long volcanic hotspot in the Indian Ocean, everything changed. In 1841, an enslaved boy on the island named Edmond Albius developed the painstaking yet effective hand-pollination method for vanilla that is still in use today, which involves exposing and mating the flower’s male and female parts. His technique spread from Réunion to Madagascar and other neighboring islands, and eventually worked its way back to Mexico as a way to augment the vanilla harvest pollinated by bees.”

So I don’t have an answer to how vanilla got into wine jars in Jerusalem 1500 years before Cortez ran across it in Mexico.  From the stories I’ve read, it wouldn’t be the first case of divine intervention ever heard of around Jerusalem.  It’s possible – but we have some fairly solid dates that tell us when Vanilla made it to the old world.  There are histories and voyages that were never recorded.  But this research strikes me as needing a little more verification.

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