Good vintage? Ancient bronze vessel found in China may have held 2,000-year-old wine

  • Archaeologists make discovery at cluster of tombs uncovered by construction workers in Henan province
  • Other valuable funeral objects dug up include 20 pieces of burial jade and relics that could be ‘national treasures’ of significance
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2018, 5:02pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2018, 11:50pm

Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient bronze vessel in central China that they believe was still holding 3.5 litres of wine from 2,000 years ago.

It was one of two wine vessels found in a cluster of ancient tombs discovered by workers at a construction site in Luoyang, Henan province in September, The Beijing News reported on Tuesday.

Two hundred of the tombs are thought to be from the late Western Han dynasty (206BC-AD8), and excavation work is still in progress at the site.

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The bronze vessels – one empty and the other full of liquid – were found in a side chamber of one of the tombs, Pan Fusheng, deputy researcher of the Luoyang City Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute, told the newspaper.

“The pot felt very heavy when we moved it – we guessed it might be wine,” Pan was quoted as saying, adding that the 3.5 litres of liquid was then decanted into a glass vessel.

The researcher said they believed it was a wine made from fermented grain and produced in the same period as the tomb, which would be confirmed by analysing samples of the “extremely precious” liquid. Such wine was consumed by Chinese nobility in ancient times.

But Pan did not recommend that anyone tries to drink the potentially 2,000-year-old wine.

“It will be drinkable, but the wine has likely been contaminated,” he said, adding that particles from the vessel could have leached into the pale milky wine over time and its composition may also have changed.

“Besides, we won’t be trying it because this wine is of huge historical and cultural value,” Pan said.

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Other valuable funeral objects were also dug up from the tomb where the wine vessels were found, according to the report. Of the 60 relics unearthed, 20 were pieces of burial jade and some of them could even turn out to be “national treasures” of significance.

Pan said the owner of the tomb could have been a county or prefecture-level official. Relics from the tomb are being taken to a laboratory for assessment, while the main chamber will be relocated and restored.

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Archaeologists made a similar discovery in Xianyang, Shaanxi province, in March, uncovering a well-sealed bronze vessel in a tomb believed to be that of an ordinary resident from the Qin dynasty (221-207BC), according to mainland media reports. The 300ml of milky white liquid inside was confirmed to be fermented wine.