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Ancient Egypt

Tutankhamun's Tipple

Edited from BBC News, 26 October 2005

Tutankhamun was a red wine drinker, according to scientists who had been studying residue left in wine pitchers in the ancient pharaoh's tomb.

Wine was a luxury drink in ancient Egypt and bottles were labelled with the wine's name, year of harvest, source, and even vine grower. Until this research was released in 2005, the colour of the wine was unknown as it dried out over time. A team of Spanish scientists developed a new technique which was able to pinpoint an acid left by compounds in red wine.

New method

Like his counterparts, the boy king Tutankhamun, who died about 1324 BC, was buried along with all of the goods and provisions which the ancient Egyptians believed their pharaoh would need in the next life.

In death, the king had to have the same things he had in life, including food and possessions, according to Maria Rosa Guasch-Jane, the leader of the Spanish research team. The Egyptians wanted the dead to enjoy their afterlife almost as if they hadn't entered it in the first place. Possessions included a number of pitchers containing wine, marked with details about the wine's provenance, just as a modern vintner would include today.

A jar from Tutankhamun's tomb was marked: 'Year 5. Wine of the House-of-Tutankhamun Ruler-of-the-Southern-on, l.p.h (in) the Western River. By the chief Vintner Khaa'.

Over the thousands of years between the jars being placed in the tomb and their being removed and placed in the British Museum in London and the Egyptian Museum in London, the wine had dried out completely, giving little clue as to what had once lain within.

Light shed on Shedeh

Archaeologists had thought for some time that the wine drunk by ancient Egyptians may have been red - tomb paintings showing grapes being pressed into wine were illustrated with red and purple grapes. But final proof came with the invention of Ms Guasch-Jane's technique, which uses both liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry together.

It revealed syringic acid in scrapings taken from two jars in Tutankhamun's tomb. Syringic acid is released by the breakdown of the compound malvidin, found in red wine.

The scientists were also able to use the tool on residues which had been left in other jars in order to establish that a drink called Shedeh, the most precious drink in ancient Egypt, was made from grapes rather than pomegranates, as was previously thought.



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