In every crowd (remember being part of a crowd?) there is one guy (it’s always a guy) who will eat or drink anything you put in front of him – without bothering to ask about the ingredients. That’s the kind of guy researchers in China are looking for after finding a 2,000-year-old bronze pot containing a mysterious liquid.
“The unknown liquid in the pot was yellowish-brown in color with impurities. The sample was sent to Beijing for further tests. Preliminary judgment based on the form of the tomb indicates the tomb was built at the turn of the Qin Dynasty (221 BC-207 BC) and the Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 220). Its owner might be a low-ranking official with a title.”
“Its owner might be a low-ranking official” should be a warning that this probably isn’t a fine royal wine aged for 2,000 years. China.org.cn reports that archeologists found the strange container (photos of the container and the liquid here) while excavating an ancient tomb in a shantytown (another warning sign) in Sanmenxia, a major city of Henan Province in east-central China. The bronze pot resembled an unidentifiable (yet another warning sign) bird with a long neck that doubled as both the pourer and the stopper for over 3,000 ml (about 3.2 US quarts) of an “unknown liquid” (the last warning that still won’t stop some guy from drinking it).
"The design resembles that of a mute swan.”
Gao Ruyi, a senior veterinarian with the Sanmenxia wetland park, was brought in to identify the bird this bronze container was modeled after, which was a surprise since swans are native to Siberia but not China. Zhu Xiaodong, deputy head of Sanmenxia's institute of cultural relics and archaeology, says the only way artists could craft this kind of detail is if they had swans to look at, so it’s a sign they had moved to Sanmenxia during the late Qin and early Han dynasties. This doesn’t mean the liquid in the bottle is a Pinot Noir or another wine that goes with goose (that’s what a swan is, you know). In fact, there's no certainty that the liquid, unlike the bottle, is 2,000 years old. As of this writing, the sample has not been identified and no guy has yet given it a try.
Was this a bottle that would have contained an adult beverage served with a roast swan dinner? While the Old Testament (Leviticus 11:18) and the Torah designate them as “unclean,” swans are said to be tasty and were consumed by British royals for centuries. The idea that they mate for life turned many off to the meat, even though that kind of anthropomorphic thinking doesn’t keep humans from eating other large, good-looking animals, so there could very well be some connection between the Chinese mystery liquid and its swan decanter.
Whether it was served with swan or an ancient form of General Tso’s chicken (yes, we know it's an American dish - just play along), the liquid is probably a 2,000-year-old remnant of a Chinese beer made from rice, honey, grapes, and hawthorn. Wine was only beginning to make an appearance in this time period.
Would you take a swig? Not even to win a bet? Or on a dare? How about eating a swan? They say the neck alone can feed four people.