Archive for December 13th, 2010

Chinese archaeologists find 2,400-year-old soup

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Archaeologists excavating a tomb near the ancient capital of Xian have discovered what they think are the remains of bone soup sealed in a bronze tripod vessel. The bones and liquid have turned green from the oxidation of the bronze, but amazingly the liquid is still actually liquid. It hasn’t dried or evaporated. It appears the soup was cooked in the bronze tripod pot, then sealed and placed in the tomb. Although other ancient foodstuffs have been discovered, this the first time bone soup has been found in Chinese archaeological history.

The remains still have to be tested to prove conclusively that they were once bone soup. Chemical analysis will also help determine the ingredients of the soup. The finds haven’t been radiocarbon dated yet so they’ll do that in the lab just to confirm, but the artifacts and style of the tomb in which they were found dates it to 2,400 years ago during the Warring States Period (475-221 BC).

Another small bronze pot was found which also contains an odorless liquid that archaeologists think was probably wine. A third vessel, a lacquer-ware container, was found in the tomb but it was decayed. Burying the dead with food and drink they would need in the afterlife was a customary practice in ancient China.

A tomb adjacent to this one, in fact, held the same combination of pots: a bronze tripod, a bronze pot and a piece of lacquer-ware, but all three of them were broken. They might have held similar victuals at one point, though, since the left ribs of a cow were found next to the broken vessels.

We don’t know who the tomb belongs to, but perhaps someone of some wealth and status. The tomb is less than a thousand feet away from the Qin king’s mausoleum, so the proximity suggests that the occupants of these tombs would have been high-ranking officials or maybe even members of the extended royal family.

Archaeologist Liu Daiyun picks up a piece of bone from bronze tripod vessel Liu Daiyun examines a bone Liu Daiyun examines liquid thought to be wine

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