Israeli archaeologists excavating an area near Ramla prior to the construction of a new highway were expecting to find ancient artifacts but instead happened upon hundreds of liquor bottles belonging to British soldiers from the First World War.

The excavation was carried out in the fields of Kibbutz Netzer Sereni, as part of the construction of Highway 200 that was initiated and financed by the Netivei Israel Company.

At the dig site, the archaeologists found flint tools that are 250,000 years old from the Middle Palaeolithic period. But they were also astounded to find a fascinating reminder from WWI that included, among other things, hundreds of liquor bottles that are at least 100 years old.

“The written historical evidence regarding the soldiers’ activities in the British army in Israel usually consists of ‘dry’ details, such as the number of soldiers, direction of attack, and the results of the battle. The discovery of this site and the finds in it provide us with an opportunity for a glimpse of the unwritten part of history, and reconstruct for the first time the everyday life and leisure of the soldiers,” said Ron Toueg, excavation director on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The bottles, say the archaeologists, were found near a building where British soldiers were garrisoned during the war.

A Scotch whisky bottle with an old label. Photo by Assaf Peretz, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority

“We exposed a building whose upper part was not preserved, which was apparently the foundations of a barracks.  This structure was used for agricultural purposes in the Ottoman period, and during World War I the British converted it for military use and soldiers were housed in it. Inside the building we discovered dozens of uniform buttons, belt buckles, parts of riding equipment, and other artifacts that were the property of the British soldiers. The building caught fire and collapsed for a reason which at this point is unclear,” said Toueg.

“The place where the soldiers discarded debris was revealed just a few meters from the building. We were surprised to discover that along with broken crockery and cutlery there was an enormous number of soft drink and liquor bottles. In fact, about 70 percent of the waste that was discarded in the refuse pit were liquor bottles. It seems that the soldiers took advantage of the respite given them to release the tension by frequently drinking alcohol.”

Brigitte Ouahnouna, a researcher in the glass department of the Israel Antiquities Authority said, this is the first time in the history of archaeology in Israel in which an assemblage of hundreds of glass bottles from a British army camp from World War I was uncovered.

“Interestingly, the glass bottles, which contained mainly wine, beer, soda and alcoholic beverages such as gin, liqueur and whiskey, came from Europe to supply soldiers and officers in the camp. It is a fascinating testimony of the everyday life of the British military camp a century ago,” she said.

The archaeologists also announced that they found a swagger stick that belonged to a Royal Flying Corps officer. Swagger sticks such as these were usually carried by senior officers as a symbol of authority. Its tip is made of silver and it is stamped with the symbol of the corps and the initials RFC.

“To the best of my knowledge, this is the first item of its kind ever found in Israel,” said Assaf Peretz, a researcher of the period at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The silver tip of the swagger stick that is stamped with the symbol of the corps and the initials RFC. Photo by Ron Toueg, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority.