China unearths 3,000-year-old fruit cellar

China unearths 3,000-year-old fruit cellar

The cellar, a rectangular pit about 100 cm long, 80 cm wide and 200 cm deep, was found in Shaanxi province, said researcher Sun Zhouyong of the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archeology.

Sun and his colleagues took eight years to conclude that the pit, originally found in 2002 under the ruins of the Western Zhou dynasty (1046-771 BC), was a cellar to preserve fruits for aristocrats, Xinhua reported Sunday.

The site in Zhouyuan, where the cellar was unearthed, is 100 km from the provincial capital of Xi'an.

"We assume the cellar had something like a shade that was fixed on the four holes but had decayed over the years," said Sun.

The cellar contained piles of nuts and seeds. "We sorted them out with care, and found about 150 melon seeds, 10 plum seeds and 500 apricot nuts, of which 108 were complete with carbonized pulp," said Sun. It also contained millet and grass seeds.

"Most of the seeds were intact and very few were carbonized," said Sun. "It was so amazing that scientists who conducted lab work suspected they were actually put away by rodents in more recent times."

The researchers had sent three apricot nuts to Beta Analytic in Florida last year for carbon 14 test to determine their age.

"The test results indicated they were about 3,000 years old, dating back to a period between 1380 B.C. and 1120 B.C.," said Sun.

"Seemingly the fruits had been stored in an acidic and dry environment, so dehydration was extremely slow and the nuts were not carbonized even after so many centuries."
The site was believed to be a dwelling place for Duke Danfu, a leader of the Zhou clan. It was known as the cradle of the Western Zhou Dynasty, one of the earliest periods of China's written history.

The cellar could store up to 100 kg of fruits, he said. "The Book of Rites", a Chinese history book compiled in the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-9), put melons, apricots, plums and peaches among the 31 categories of food favoured by the aristocrats of the time. It said people in the Zhou Dynasty had also learned to grow fruit trees in orchards.

A poem in the "Book of Songs", a collection of poetry from the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century - 771 B.C.) to the Spring and Autumn Period (770 - 475 B.C.), says food kept in "ling yin" -- meaning cool places -- will stay fresh for three days in the summer.

Archeologists had earlier found a 2,000-year-old "icebox" in the ruins of a temporary imperial residence of the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. - 207 B.C.) in Shaanxi province.
The icebox, in the shape of a shaft 1.1 meters in diameter and 1.6 meters tall, was unearthed about three meters underground.

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