Archeological excavations in central China’s Henan Province have revealed several artifacts dating back around 2,000 years. Among the artifacts, the researchers unearthed a bronze vase with around 3 liters of a mysterious, brown liquid.
The bronze vase was unearthed from an ancient tomb and was crafted to resemble a swan with a curved neck and the bird’s beak pointing down. The liquid found inside, unknown to the naked eye by archaeologists, has a yellowish-brown hue with impurities. In order to understand what the contents of the vase are, researchers sent the strange liquid for analysis to Beijing on May 18, according to the Global Times.
Although experts can’t know for certain what the brownish liquid is just by seeing it, one theory suggests that it could some sort of alcoholic drink perhaps grain alcohol— a purified form of ethyl alcohol (ethanol) made from the distillation of fermented grain.
The tomb and the artifacts were unearthed by chance as construction workers were preparing a sewer system for a neighborhood in the Sanmenxia suburbs. In addition to the swan-shaped vase, many other objects were found in the tomb. A bronze helmet, a bronze bowl, and swords made of iron and jade were also found.
A preliminary analysis of the discovery tells us that given the shape of the tomb, it was most likely built in a tumultuous period between the end of the Quin dynasty 221 BC to 207 BC and the Han dynasty (202 BC to 220 BC).
Archeologists believe that the owner of the tomb may have been a low-ranking army official at the time. Zhu Xiaodong, deputy director of the Sanmenxia Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, noted that this was the first bronze vessel of its kind found in the city. He added that the group of archaeologists invited a veterinarian to identify swan-shaped vase, in order to understand more about it.
“The design of the swan-shaped vase resembles a Mute Swan (Cygnus olor),” said Gao Ruyi, senior veterinarian at the Sanmenxia Wetland Park. He pointed out that the beak of the swan, like the one in the vase unearthed by experts, is longer than that of a goose, an animal that archaeologists had originally believed was represented on the vase.
Researchers were surprised by the accuracy with which the ancients had reflected the bird’s morphology. In fact, it is believed that however crafted the vase must have worked it while having a swan in close proximity, which allowed the artists to nail down specific details.
“Swans may have appeared in Sanmenxia during the Qin and early Han dynasties,” said Zhu, who also expressed his admiration for the advanced techniques of working with bronze at the time.
Located between Xi’an (Xi’an being the location of China’s massive pyramids) and Luoyang, two ancient capital cities in Chinese history, Sanmenxia used to serve as a military and commercial traffic stop.
As a consequence, the city is rich in historical relics, some of which were brought from distant locations via trade.