|PHILADELPHIA, PA, December 2004 -- Chemical analyses of
ancient organics absorbed, and preserved, in pottery jars from the
Neolithic village of Jiahu, in Henan province, Northern China, have
revealed that a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey, and fruit was
being produced as early as 9,000 years ago, approximately the same time
that barley beer and grape wine were beginning to be made in the Middle
In addition, liquids more than 3,000 years old, remarkably preserved
inside tightly lidded bronze vessels, were chemically analyzed. These
vessels from the capital city of Anyang and an elite burial in the
Yellow River Basin, dating to the Shang and Western Zhou Dynasties (ca.
1250-1000 B.C.), contained specialized rice and millet
"wines." The beverages had been flavored with herbs, flowers,
and/or tree resins, and are similar to herbal wines described in the
Shang dynasty oracle inscriptions.
The new discoveries, made by an international, multi-disciplinary
team of researchers including the University of Pennsylvania Museum's
archaeochemist Dr. Patrick McGovern of MASCA (Museum Applied Science
Center for Archaeology), provide the first direct chemical evidence for
early fermented beverages in ancient Chinese culture, thus broadening
our understanding of the key technological and cultural roles that
fermented beverages played in China.
The discoveries and their implications for understanding ancient
Chinese culture will be published on-line the week of December 6, 2004
in the PNAS Early Edition (Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences): "Fermented Beverages of Pre-and Proto-historic
China," by Patrick E. McGovern, Juzhong Zhang, Jigen Tang, Zhiquing
Zhang, Gretchen R. Hall, Robert A. Moreau, Alberto Nuņez, Eric D.
Butrym, Michael P. Richards, Chen-shan Wang, Guangsheng Cheng, Zhijun
Zhao, and Changsui Wang. Dr. McGovern worked with this team of
researchers, associated with the University of Science and Technology of
China in Hefei, the Institute of Archaeology in Beijing, the Institute
of Cultural Relics and Archaeology of Henan Province, the U.S.
Department of Agriculture, the Firmenich Corporation, Max Planck
Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig (Germany), and the
Institute of Microbiology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The PNAS
website address to the article is: http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.0407921101.
Dr. McGovern first met with archaeologists and scientists, including
his co-authors on the paper, in China in 2000, returning there in 2001
and 2002. Because of the great interest in using modern scientific
techniques to investigate a crucial aspect of ancient Chinese culture,
collaboration was initiated and samples carried back to the U.S. for
analysis. Chemical tests of the pottery from the Neolithic village of
Jiahu was of special interest, because it is some of the earliest known
pottery from China. This site was already famous for yielding some of
the earliest musical instruments and domesticated rice, as well as
possibly the earliest Chinese pictographic writing. Through a variety of
chemical methods including gas and liquid chromatography-mass
spectrometry, infrared spectrometry, and stable isotope analysis,
finger-print compounds were identified, including those for hawthorn
fruit and/or wild grape, beeswax associated with honey, and rice.
The prehistoric beverage at Jiahu, Dr. McGovern asserts, paved the
way for unique cereal beverages of the proto-historic 2nd millennium BC,
remarkably preserved as liquids inside sealed bronze vessels of the
Shang and Western Zhou Dynasties. The vessels had become hermetically
sealed when their tightly fitting lids corroded, preventing evaporation.
Numerous bronze vessels with these liquids have been excavated at major
urban centers along the Yellow River, especially from elite burials of
high-ranking individuals. Besides serving as burial goods to sustain the
dead in the afterlife, the vessels and their contents can also be
related to funerary ceremonies in which living intermediaries
communicated with the deceased ancestor and gods in an altered state of
consciousness after imbibing a fermented beverage.
"The fragrant aroma of the liquids inside the tightly lidded
jars and vats, when their lids were first removed after some three
thousand years, suggested that they indeed represented Shang and Western
Zhou fermented beverages, " Dr. McGovern noted. Samples of liquid
inside vessels from the important capital of Anyang and the Changzikou
Tomb in Luyi county were analyzed. The combined archaeochemical,
archaeobotanical and archaeological evidence for the Changzikou Tomb and
Anyang liquids point to their being fermented and filtered rice or
millet "wines," either jiu or chang, its herbal equivalent,
according to the Shang Dynasty oracle inscriptions. Specific aromatic
herbs (e.g., wormword), flowers (e.g., chrysanthemum), and/or tree
resins (e.g., China fir and elemi) had been added to the wines,
according to detected compounds such as camphor and alpha-cedrene, beta-amyrin
and oleanolic acid, as well as benzaldehyde, acetic acid, and
short-chain alcohols characteristic of rice and millet wines.
Both jiu and chang of proto-historic China were likely made by mold
saccharification, a uniquely Chinese contribution to beverage-making in
which an assemblage of mold species are used to break down the
carbohydrates of rice and other grains into simple, fermentable sugars.
Yeast for fermentation of the simple sugars enters the process
adventitiously, either brought in by insects or settling on to large and
small cakes of the mold conglomerate (qu) from the rafters of old
buildings. As many as 100 special herbs, including wormwood, are used
today to make qu, and some have been shown to increase the yeast
activity by as much as seven-fold.
For Dr. McGovern, who began his role in the Chinese wine studies in
2000, this discovery offers an exciting new chapter in our rapidly
growing understanding of the importance of fermented beverages in human
culture around the world.
In 1990, he and colleagues Rudolph H. Michel and Virginia R. Badler
first made headlines with the discovery of what was then the earliest
known chemical evidence of wine, dating to ca. 3500-3100 B.C., from
Godin Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran (see "Drink and
Be Merry!: Infrared Spectroscopy and Ancient Near Eastern Wine" in
Organic Contents of Ancient Vessels: Materials Analysis and
Archaeological Investigation, eds. W. R. Biers and P.E. McGovern, MASCA
Research Papers in Science and Archaeology, vol. 7, Philadelphia: MASCA,
University of Pennsylvania Museum, University of Pennsylvania).
That finding was followed up by the earliest chemically confirmed
barley beer in 1992, inside another vessel from the same room at Godin
Tepe that housed the wine jars. In 1994, chemical testing confirmed
resinated wine inside two jars excavated by a Penn archaeological team
at the Neolithic site of Hajji Firuz Tepe, Iran, dating to ca. 5400 B.C.
and some 2000 years earlier than the Godin Tepe jar. Dr. McGovern is
author of Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture
(Princeton University Press, 2003).
Dr. McGovern's research was made possible by support from the
National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Henry Luce Foundation,
and the National Science Foundation (2000-2001; award BCS-9911128). The
GC-MS analyses were carried out in the Chemistry Department of Drexel
University through the kind auspices of J. P. Honovich. We also thank
the Institute of Archaeology in Beijing and Zhengzhou for logistical
support and providing samples for analysis. Qin Ma Hui, Wuxiao Hong,
Hsing-Tsung Huang, Shuicheng Li, Guoguang Luo, Victor Mair, Harold Olmo,
Vernon Singleton, and Tiemei Chen variously advised on or facilitated
the research. Changsui Wang, chairperson of the Archaeometry program at
the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei (Anhui
Province) was untiring in his enthusiasm for the project, and personally
accompanied Dr. McGovern on travels to excavations and institutes, where
collaborations and meetings with key scientists and archaeologists were
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