in bronze in the king's tomb were matched by a wealth of organic residues
left in the drinking vessels. Excavatorsrealizing the importance
of using scientific methods to disentangle history from legendshipped
all the residues to the Penn Museum, where
a Museum chemist examined them. The results were largely negativeat
the time, highly sensitive analytical instruments weren't available. The
chemist could show only that carbon, nitrogen, and other elements characteristic
of organic materials were present.
40 years later,
Dr. Patrick McGovern and his research team took up up the project of identifying
specific organic compounds in the drinking vessels.
The team was
able to reconstruct the Midas Tomb funerary feast in minute detail using
such methods as infrared spectroscopy, liquid and gas chromatography, and
mass spectrometry. (Enough of the original samples remain for the future
when even more advanced methods will be available).
beverage in all the vessels was determined to be a mixture of grape
wine, barley beer, and honey mead...
chemical results complemented one another and gave an extremely consistent
picture of what was drunk on that momentous occasion 2700 years ago. Altogether,
analyses were carried out on 16 residues from a range of bronze vessel
types: the ram-headed and lion-headed buckets
or situlae, a small vat used in serving, 9 small drinking bowls with omphalos
bases, and 4 large drinking bowls.
with long, sieved spout. Such jugs were ideal for filtering
out any debris from the fermentation process, and with the handle
set at a right angle to the spout, drinking was a breeze!
The beverage in all the vessels was determined to be a mixture of grape
wine, barley beer, and honey mead. McGovern's analyses focused on identifying
compounds for specific natural products. In the case of grape wine, tartaric
acid or its potassium or calcium salts were detected in all the residues
from the drinking-set vessels that were analyzed. This acid occurs in
large amounts in nature only in grapes.
was marked by the presence of calcium oxalate, or beerstone,
which settles out at the bottom and along the sides of beer fermentation
and drinking vessels. A single vessel often served the same purpose in
the ancient Near East, so it was difficult to eliminate this bitter-tasting
substance from the brew. Although calcium oxalate is widespread in nature,
high levels, like those detected in the Midas Tomb drinking vessels, are
unusual. Since these vessels most likely held a liquid, barley beer is
the best candidate (sprouted barley or malt,
an important ingredient of beer, has also been recovered from the palace
area). The jugs with long, sieved spouts would have been especially well
suited to filter out any spent grains or other debris from the brewing
the fermented beverage concoction was rounded off with honey mead. The
long-chained, saturated carbon compounds of beeswax, which can be preserved
for centuries, provided the tell-tale evidence, together with gluconic
acid. It is impossible to filter out all the beeswax when processing honey,
so honey products always retain a small amount of the substance.