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SYFY WIRE Magic: The Gathering

Archeologists discover attempt to make immortality elixir in ancient Chinese tomb

By Elizabeth Rayne
Chinese elixir of life

Immortal life is something that can really give you a boost on an imaginary battlefield, and apparently in ancient China. Besides Baron Sengir’s claim of the stuff being pretty stale…does it actually work?

What Chinese archaeologists thought was wine in a Western Han Dynasty tomb in Luoyang has now been proven to be an attempt at a draught of everlasting life. You can’t really blame them for assuming that a bronze pot filled with a yellowish liquid that gave off an alcoholic smell was anything but wine or some other type of liquor. Also, anything you find in a tomb dating back two millennia has to have fermented by now. Turned out what they’d really found was the first immortality elixir that otherwise only existed in myth and legend.

"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."

Found among the riches buried with an ancient noble, including painted clay pots and a goose-shaped lamp, the liquid thought to be wine was found out to be anything but when it was analyzed in a lab. While liquor made from rice and sorghum had been discovered in similar tombs, this was hardly something you’d pair with a sumptuous dinner, let alone even drink if you knew the side effects.

Chinese elixir of immortality

The magical ingredients in this liquid are mostly potassium nitrate and alunate. These are said to make mere mortals immortal in ancient Taoist texts, but are really more of a death wish. Alunate is harmless, being used mainly for things like pickling and baking powder, but in the case of potassium nitrate, you probably don’t want to drink a chemical used in fertilizers and fireworks. The key to eternal life probably isn’t something that can cause everything from skin irritation and anemia to kidney failure and even death.

No wonder entire Chinese texts on alchemical elixir poisoning actually exist.

Whether this concoction was actually meant to be consumed or just a ritual burial object that supposedly let the soul live on is anyone’s guess. Many cultures believe that the spirits of the dead can still eat and drink (in their own way). There is also a chance it could have been used in an attempt at mummification, like the strange acidic liquid found with the 2,100-year-old mummy of the Lady of Dai in Changsha. The “diva mummy” is almost supernaturally well-preserved. Potassium nitrate may not be acid, but its mythical claim to fame might have been enough to convince ancient embalmers.

For now, let’s just say you’re better off playing Magic, because you aren’t going to add any years to your life by drinking the real deal.

(via Xinhua)