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Trending Science: We loved our bread all the way back to the Stone Age

Archaeologists unearthed the world’s oldest bread from stone fireplaces at an archaeological site in north-eastern Jordan.

Fundamental Research

Findings published in the journal ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’ reveal that the burnt remains of a bread baked about 14 400 years ago represent the oldest evidence of the staple food. This discovery also leads to some attention-grabbing revelations. What makes the find so interesting is that this was 4 000 years before farming became common. It also pushes back the first evidence for bread by more than 5 000 years. A team of archaeologists from the University of Copenhagen, University College London and University of Cambridge analysed the food remains at a hunter-gatherer site in Jordan. The 24 crumbs examined by the team showed signs of grinding, sieving and kneading. Which came first, bread making or agriculture? Researchers consider that the remains are of a flatbread made well before the dawn of agriculture. They believe the discovery of this bread suggests its production may have influenced the cultivation of cereals leading to the agricultural boom in the Neolithic period. They also think the bread was made when people gathered together for a celebration or feast. The team says it would have resembled modern pita bread. Our ancestors may have used the bread as a wrap for roasted meat. So, in addition to being the oldest bread, it may also have been the oldest sandwich. Turkey held the title of oldest bread baked some 9 000 years ago. Evidence for the preparation of bread-like products “This is the earliest evidence we have for what we could really call a cuisine, in that it’s a mixed food product,” Prof. Dorian Fuller of University College London told the ‘BBC’. “They’ve got flatbreads, and they’ve got roasted gazelle and so forth, and that’s something they are then using to make a meal.” First author of the study Dr Amaia Arranz-Otaegui of the University of Copenhagen, who discovered the bread remains, said it was the last thing they expected to find at the site. “Bread is a powerful link between our past and present food cultures. It connects us with our prehistoric ancestors.” The bread would have been made in several stages, including “grinding cereals and club-rush tubers to obtain fine flour, mixing of flour with water to produce dough, and baking the dough in the hot ashes of a fireplace or in a hot flat-stone,” she explained. “The significance of this bread is that it shows investment of extra effort into making food that has mixed ingredients,” said Prof. Fuller. “So, making some sort of a recipe, and that implies that bread played a special role for special occasions. That in turn suggests one of the possible motivations as to why people later chose to cultivate and domesticate wheat and barley, because wheat and barley were species that already had a special place in terms of special foods.” Speaking to the British newspaper ‘The Guardian’, Dr Arranz-Otaegui said: “Food remains have long been ignored in archaeology, and therefore have not been sufficiently studied. I’m sure that if we look at older sites, we may find bread-like cereal products during the Paleolithic [for example] 25,000 years ago.” The team hasn’t attempted to recreate the recipe yet. How long before celebrity chefs try to do so in a televised bake off?


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