2,700-Year-Old Cauldrons Found In Mongolia Were Used To Collect Blood, Possibly For Sausage Production

Published June 7, 2024

An analysis of two 2,700-year-old cauldrons revealed they were used to store animal blood — and possibly yak milk.

Cauldrons In Iron Age Art

Bruce Worden/ University of MichiganA rock art depiction of cauldron use from an Iron Age settlement in Russia.

During multiple archaeological excavations across the Eurasian steppe over the years, researchers have come across several bronze cauldrons, the purpose of which remained unknown for quite some time. Now, new research suggests the cauldrons may have been used to collect animal blood — possibly for sausage production.

A new study published in Scientific Reports examined two 2,700-year-old Bronze Age cauldrons, revealing how Mongolian nomads once filled them with the blood of slaughtered animals and possibly yak milk.

The Long History Of Animal Blood In The Human Diet

To determine the purpose of these ancient cauldrons, researchers from the University of Basel, University of Michigan, Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology, the National Museum of Mongolia, and the Mongolian Institute of Archaeology conducted extensive protein analyses on a pair of cauldrons discovered by Mongolian herders in 2019.

During their analysis, researchers identified blood remains from various animals, though most seemed to come from sheep and goats. Researchers believe that Bronze Age Mongolians slaughtered the animals and collected their blood, storing it in the cauldrons to then be used to make blood sausages, a culinary custom still practiced today in parts of Mongolia.

“These parallels with modern times, together with well-founded historical accounts of diet and slaughtering practices in the region, suggest that the processing of blood was a traditional part of Mongolia’s food culture,” said study lead author Dr. Shevan Wilkin in a statement.

“If the blood was collected, as per our suggestion, for sausage production it would extend the antiquity of this practice at least 2,700 years into the past,” the authors wrote in their study.

Bronze Age Blood Cauldron

Jamsranjav Bayarsaikhan and Bruce WordenOne of the cauldrons analyzed by the team during the project.

Forming sausages was also a method ancient steppe peoples used to preserve their food, so this practice was likely done for both utilitarian and culinary purposes.

“While it is possible that blood could have been collected for raw consumption or ritual purposes, we believe that it is more likely an aspect of food preparation,” the researchers wrote. “The use of these vessels as containers for collecting and holding blood aligns well with how blood sausages are made in modern food processing.”

But blood was not the only thing stored in these cauldrons. Researchers also found trace amounts of yak milk — which could have interesting implications for the history of yak domestication.

Yaks May Have Been Domesticated Earlier Than Previously Thought

While Bronze Age rock carvings seemingly depict humans domesticating yaks, there has been some debate among historians as to when, exactly, the practice began. However, the presence of peptides from yak milk in the cauldrons suggests that humans domesticated yaks at least 2,700 years ago.

“This shows that yaks were domesticated and milked in Mongolia much earlier than previously assumed,” Wilkin said. The milk may have been fermented in the cauldrons for preservation in the form of yogurt, or it could have been used in the production of sausages.

“However,” study authors wrote, “it remains unclear why these were recovered from a vessel that otherwise seemed to have been used primarily for blood collection. It is possible, and even likely that milk, or a processed milk product, was either purposefully or accidentally incorporated into the vessel during the blood collection, cooking, or processing.”

Excavation Site In Northern Mongolia

Jamsranjav BayarsaikhanThe excavation site in northern Mongolia.

Notably, the peptides indicated that the milk, like the blood, may not have come from a single species. While one of the peptides specifically aligned with yaks, others may have come from yaks, cows, goats, sheep, or even reindeer.

“So while all peptides could come from one type of animal, they have the potential to have come from up to four different ruminant species,” study authors wrote.

In either case, all signs point to domesticated yaks in some capacity, which could help to finally settle the debate over when humans domesticated the large ruminants.

“Our discoveries offer insights into the traditions and diet of Bronze Age nomads and shed light on the diverse culinary methods of ancient civilizations,” Wilkin said.

After reading about these Bronze Age cauldrons from ancient Mongolia, read about the legend of the Mongolian Death Worm and other cryptids. Or, see a collection of vintage photos of Mongolia from before the Soviet purge.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Maggie Donahue
Maggie Donahue is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. She has a Master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and a Bachelor's degree in creative writing and film studies from Johns Hopkins University. Before landing at ATI, she covered arts and culture at The A.V. Club and Colorado Public Radio and also wrote for Longreads. She is interested in stories about scientific discoveries, pop culture, the weird corners of history, unexplained phenomena, nature, and the outdoors.
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Harvey, Austin. "2,700-Year-Old Cauldrons Found In Mongolia Were Used To Collect Blood, Possibly For Sausage Production." AllThatsInteresting.com, June 7, 2024, https://allthatsinteresting.com/bronze-age-blood-cauldrons-mongolia. Accessed June 22, 2024.