New scans of an old pottery shard reveal an ancient request for a booze run.

Mike Pomranz
June 19, 2017

We’ve all missed a reading text or two when our phone is on silent or if we’re binge-watching some food porn. It’s completely understandable. But if that message was “grab a bottle of rosé” and we overlooked it, the sender would be rightly miffed when we showed up empty-handed. Hopefully that wasn’t the case for some poor soul over two millennia ago. For five decades, archeologists have missed the part of a 2,600-year-old message that the sender may have considered the most important part: a line that reads, “If there is any wine, send [part of it].”

The lost wine request revelation comes after Israeli researchers used multispectral imaging technology to read the back of a piece of pottery from 600 B.C. In 1965, when scientists originally unearthed the “ostracon” – a broken piece of pottery often used for as a simple material to write on – they thought it was blank, but new technology revealed the forgotten, boozy message from a soldier named Hananyahu to his friend Elyashiv. “Getting a letter from Hananyahu after 2,600 years, it’s something that gave me chills,” Shira Faigenbaum-Golovin, a doctoral student at Tel Aviv University and one of the authors of a paper on the discovery, told the New York Times. “I was really surprised to see it.”

Beyond the asking for wine, the back of the shard also included other lines of text. “If there is anything (else) you need, [write me about it],” the next sentence says. Because if you are going to ask for wine, it’s just good manners to reciprocate, lest your request be ignored. The final line is also about wine, discussing an amount taken by a man named Ge’alyahu. Apparently, Hananyahu had his eye on what everyone was drinking.

Though finding messages about wine written on the side of pottery scraps isn’t itself surprising, the fact that it was hiding in what was essentially plain sight for so long is: The shard has been on display for half a century. “Our results demonstrate the need for multispectral image acquisition for both sides of all ancient ink ostraca,” the paper states. “Moreover, in certain cases we recommend employing multispectral techniques for screening newly unearthed ceramic potsherds prior to disposal.” Seriously. Who knows how many requests for wine have gone unanswered!