Yantai (Chine): White Liquor from Han Dynasty Discovered

Chinese Institute of Archaeology

Source - http://www.kaogu.cn/en/detail.asp?ProductID=4237

On March 2013, in co-operation with fundamental construction and authorized by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH), Yantai Museum has organized an archaeological team and excavated, as a means of rescue, a series of burials in the area. On May 16th, while cleaning tomb no.73, the archaeologists found liquid material in a pottery pot buried there. They protected it immediately and sampled it for examination. It has been confirmed to be light-fragranced “baijiu” (white liquor).  

Tomb no.73 is an earthen shaft tomb, lying from east to west; it was multiple-burials tomb with tomb no.72, together they are two pits occupied by a couple. The tomb is 3.1-meter long (east-west), 2.4-meter wide (south-north), and 3.6-meter deep. There found an artificial ledge (ercengtai) in the tomb. Both human remains and funerary utensile have been decayed, but judging from the trace, the tomb only contains one coffin and one outer-coffin. Burial artifacts include bronze wares, iron wares and pottery wares. Bronze artifact is “daigou”(belt buckle), iron is knife; both are buried inside the coffin chamber. All the pottery wares were buried in the northern part of the outer-coffin chamber, lying from east to west. Among them, the pottery pots in the east end are laid one on top of another.


Having been excavated for a few days, most filling earth in the tomb has been already cleared; thus the archaeologists have started clearing the chambers for coffin and outer-coffin. After clearing a few pottery shards, they came across underneath another pot an intact pottery pot, which is half-filled with water-like liquid. The liquid are so clear and pure that they can even see tiny pottery shards in the bottom. Based on the environment of the surrounding area, the chambers should be relatively dry inside; and, no liquid or trance of liquid has been found in the neighboring pot to the east, neither the intact one to the west. Thus the liquid probably has been purposely put there by men. 

On May 24th, China National Wine and Spirits Testing Authority (in Yantai) has published the examination result: Methanol (CH3OH): 9mg/L, Ethanol (CH3CH2OH): 34mg/L, and Ethyl Acetate (CH3COOCH2CH3): 52mg/L.

According to the report, the water-like liquid found in the burial pot in tomb no.73 is light-fragranced liquor, but only contains a rather low level of ethanol.

Based on the structure, form and burial artifacts in tomb no.73 as well as in other tombs, the burial sites are dated to west Han period.

In the past, Archaeological excavations in Hebei, Shaanxi and other provinces have also unearthed liquor of the above-said period. But it was all contained in bronze ware, so the liquor has been mixed with bronze rusts and become quite turbid. This time, however, the liquor was contained by pottery ware, so it remains pure and clear. It is extremely hard, taking into consideration that pottery wares are highly fragile, that the liquor has been preserved up to today. Although it contains only a limited percentage of alcohol, it proves to be an essential material evidence for studying liquor-making techniques and culture in ancient China.      (Translator: Su Minjie)