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Ancient rice wine discovered in China

Archaeologists in the Chinese province of Shaanxi say they have found 300ml of 2,000-year-old rice wine in a bronze pot – one of the oldest still liquid beverages ever discovered but not the first.

Some 300ml of the liquid, likely a rice wine, was found in a soldier’s grave

The bronze vessel was found by a team from the Archaeological Research Institute of Shaanxi while they were excavating 56 ancient tombs in the Xixian New District according to reports.

The majority of the tombs, 49 of them including the one in which the pot was found, dated from the Warring States Period and the Qin Dynasty (China’s first imperial period and after which the country is named) spanning 475-206BC, one was from the succeeding Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) and six were from the last imperial dynasty the Qing (1644-1914). The excavations spanned May 2017 to January of this year.

More than 260 objects were recovered from all of the tombs but the rice wine – and the quantity of it – 300ml (10 fl oz) – is perhaps the most surprising.

The archaeologists say that the pot was tightly sealed with natural fibres which would have helped preserve the liquid inside.

Dr Zhang Yanglizheng from the institute commented: “The liquor was milky white when we found it, and was a little muddy,” he said.

“Later test showed that it was composed of high concentration amino acid substances and also small amounts of protein and fatty acids, which made it similar to yellow rice wine we drink nowadays.”

Furthermore, the liquid was found in the grave of a commoner not a nobleman, potentially indicative of the fact that enjoyment of alcoholic beverages was widespread in Qin over 2,000 years ago, while Zhang added that it was likely the Qin people had inherited drinking customs and winemaking knowledge from their forebears of the Western Zhou period (1046-771BC).

The man in the grave may also have been a soldier as a 60cm long bronze sword “showing signs of use” was discovered next to his skeleton.

The likelihood he was a warrior fits in well with the timeframe of the grave (the Warring States period and founding of the Qin dynasty were not peaceful after all) but whether he ever served in the armies of the great Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, may forever be a mystery.


The liquid was found in the sealed bronze pot, centre.

Ancient drinks discoveries

In recent times the means of finding evidence of ancient alcoholic drinks has become more advanced and led to many exciting discoveries.

Just last year a joint, Georgian-French-American team discovered residual evidence of wine in clay pots in Georgia dating back some 8,000 years – the oldest evidence of wine ever found.

The previous record dated back some 7,000 years and was found in pots from a site in northern Iran.

The rice wine found in Shaanxi is not the first still liquid liquor to have been discovered in China. In 2003, the BBC reported that archaeologists in Xi’an said they had found as much as five litres of rice wine in a nobleman’s grave from the time of the early Han dynasty, while in 2012, again in Shaanxi, a team found jars dating to the Western Zhou period, one of which appeared to still contain liquid. The latter is thought to be the oldest liquid substance ever discovered.

In the west, a bottle of wine found in the German city of Speyer and dating to the late Roman period (325-350AD) that still contained liquid is the oldest fermented beverage still in existence but the Chinese discovery is over 500 years older again.

The oldest evidence of any fermented beverage however is some 9,000 years old and was also found in China, in Henan Province – which neighbours Shaanxi to the east.

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