‘Elixir of Immortality’ found in Ancient Chinese Tomb

Researchers have identified that the mysterious liquid that is thousands of years old is the famous potion from Chinese legends.


According to Chinese archaeologists, the strange yellowish liquid discovered during excavations in Henan Province, central China, is an ancient “elixir of immortality”, the legendary potion that was believed, in centuries past, to bestow immortal life upon those who drank it.

“It is the first time that the mythical ‘immortality medicines’ have been found in China. The liquid is of significant value for the study of ancient Chinese thoughts on achieving immortality and the evolution of Chinese civilization”, said Shi Jiazhen, head of the Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

The bronze pot was unearthed in a huge 210 square meter tomb in the city of Luoyang, belonging to the Western Han Dynasty that prospered between 202 BC and 8 AD.


Also found were a number of ancient artifacts, including painted clay pots, a goose-shaped lamp and the preserved remains of the tomb’s occupant.

But it was the mysterious liquid, still preserved in the bronze pot after some 2,000 years, that captured researchers’ imaginations. The aroma of wine initially led the team to suspect they had found alcohol.

“There are 3.5 liters of the transparent yellow liquid with the smell of wine”, Shi said.

The archaeologists poured the liquid from the bronze pot into a measuring glass and noted that additional analysis would be needed in the laboratory to identify exactly what type of ancient alcohol. The team indicated that drinks made from rice and grains had previously been discovered in similar finds.

But the results showed that the mysterious liquid is a mixture of potassium nitrate and alunite, a mineral composed of aluminum and potassium sulfate.

In more recent times, potassium nitrate has been used in everything from fireworks to fertilizers and food thickeners, but its combination with alunite matches the ingredients for the “elixir of long life,” as documented in ancient Taoist texts.

Elixirs that supposedly conferred immortality or supernatural longevity were a feature of many ancient cultures, and in the case of ancient China, they were composed of all sorts of unusual ingredients that you wouldn’t normally consume, including gold, jade, mercury, arsenic, and many other minerals indigestible or poisonous.

In fact, the high level of risk associated with drinking these magical potions was so notorious, that an entire field of research is devoted to the history of Chinese alchemical elixir poisoning and, depending on the level of exposure, ingestion of potassium nitrate could be fatal.

“We don’t know whether this ancient elixir from the Western Han Dynasty was actually consumed or simply placed in the tomb as a ritual funerary object to honor the dead”, explains Shi.

But given what was commonly found in these drinks, abstinence was probably the only true secret to living a long and prosperous life.