Archaeologists Discover "Elixir Of Immortality" In Ancient Chinese Tomb

Ming period woodcut of men sitting in a hall, discussing methods of achieving longevity. On the right, a child is kneeling on the floor, stirring a concoction which is simmering over a furnace, known as the diet of the Immortals (shenxian fushi). Wellcome Collection

Bottoms up! Archaeologists in China have discovered a 2,000-year-old bronze pot that contains a yellow liquid once believed to be an “elixir of immortality.” Although, as the concoction was discovered in the tomb of a dead person, it’s presumably not very effective.

The mysterious pot was discovered in the Henan Province of central China at an archeological site near the modern-day city of Luoyang, Xinhua state news agency reports. Along with the liquid-filled vessel, they also discovered a large number of painted clay pots, bronze artifacts, and even an ornate lamp in the shape of a wild goose.

When the vessel was first unearthed back in October 2018, researchers assumed the yellowish liquid was an alcoholic drink as it had an "aroma of wine." However, further research showed that the 3.5 liters of liquid is actually made of potassium nitrate and alunite, just like the ancient recipes for the “immortality elixir” written about in an ancient Taoist text.

"It is the first time that mythical 'immortality medicines' have been found in China," Shi Jiazhen, head of the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology in Luoyang, told Xinhua.

"The liquid is of significant value for the study of ancient Chinese thoughts on achieving immortality and the evolution of Chinese civilization. The tomb provides valuable material for study of the life of Western Han nobles as well as the funeral rituals and customs of the period." 

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It should go without saying, this stuff doesn’t actually have any life-enhancing properties, especially after laying in a dusty tomb for centuries. Potassium nitrate is ionic salt used in fertilizers, fireworks, and meat processing, which can be toxic in high concentrations. Alunite is used to manufacture alum, which is used in many industrial processes and food preparation techniques.

Using alchemy in the quest for immortality is something that can be found across the ages throughout the world, from medieval Europe to feudal Japan. Chinese emperors were especially obsessed with the idea. Indeed, a huge number of emperors and other elites were said to have died from mercury poisoning after ingesting an “elixir of immortality.”

Even today, the world is still on this quest to achieve immortality, albeit using science and technology, not alchemy and spirituality. 



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