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the kitchen of Midas...feast
The riches 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 various 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 or belly-button bases, and 4 large drinking bowls.
Results? 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 fingerprint 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.
Barley beer 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 process.
Finally, 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.