Ancient Roman Fish Sauce Factory Discovered

Garum installations. (Asaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority)

Vats used to produce fish sauce (garum) that are among the few known in the Eastern Mediterranean, were recently uncovered by the Israel Antiquities Authority in Ashkelon.

“Long before pasta and pizza, the ancient Roman diet was based largely on fish sauce,” said Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini from the IAA.

“Historical sources refer to the production of special fish sauce that was used as a basic condiment for food in the Roman and Byzantine eras throughout the Mediterranean basin. They report that the accompanying strong odors during its production required its being distanced from urban areas and this was found to be the case since the installations were discovered approximately 1.2 miles from ancient Ashkelon,” Erickson-Gini said.

“The site, which served as an industrial area over several periods, was again abandoned sometime after the Islamic conquest of the region in 7th century CE and later nomadic families, probably residing in tents, dismantled the structures and sold the different parts for building material elsewhere.”

Evidence of this activity was found in the vats of the winepresses, which were turned into refuse pits containing the bones of large pack animals, such as donkeys and camels.

The excavation, underwritten by the Ashkelon Economic Co., was conducted to facilitate the establishment of a large recreation area for the residents of Ashkelon.

On Dec. 22, the first day of Chanukah, the Antiquities Authority will open the site to the public free of charge during afternoon hours. It’s on the opposite side of the Makif Vav middle school, Ashkelon.

Aerial view of the archeological site in Ashkelon. (Asaf Peretz, Israel Antiquities Authority)