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The Oldest Bread Is 14,400 Years Old, Predates Agriculture By 4,000 Years

Jul 17, 2018 07:35 PM EDT
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Archaeologists unearthed the 14,400-year-old remains of burnt flatbread in northeastern Jordan, revealing that the practice of breadmaking actually predates agriculture by an astonishing 4,000 years.

Who knew that pastries could even survive that long? It is the oldest known evidence of bread in history and it throws what archaeologists know about the development of agriculture for a spin.

Ancient Bread That Came Before Agriculture

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London, and University of Cambridge came together to analyze the charred remains of bread that were found at what's known as the Shubayqa 1 site in Jordan's famed Black Desert. It's a place that's linked to the hunter-gatherers of the Natufian culture 14,400 years ago.

The ancient remains were analyzed using electronic microscopy by study author Lara Gonzalez Carratero, who is known as an expert on the study of prehistoric bread.

The paper, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shares the team's findings on the bread, revealing that it is incredible proof that humans made bread before the advent of agriculture. The hunter-gatherers used the wild predecessors of cereal such as barley, einkorn, and club-rush tubers.

"The presence of hundreds of charred food remains in the fireplaces from Shubayqa 1 is an exceptional find, and it has given us the chance to characterize 14,000-year-old food practices," first author Amaia Arranz Otaegui, an archaeobotanist from the University of Copenhagen, says in a press release from the university. "The 24 remains analysed in this study show that wild ancestors of domesticated cereals such as barley, einkorn, and oat had been ground, sieved and kneaded prior to cooking."

Gizmodo notes that prior to this discovery, the oldest bread discovered was 9,500-year-old bread from the Çatalhöyük settlement in Anatolia, Turkey. While old, this dates back to the Neolithic period when farming has already been developed.

The Shubayqa 1 bread was baked around 5,000 years earlier.

Bread And The Natufian Culture

Shubayqa 1 is a site of the Natufian hunter-gathers who bridged the gap between sedentary and non-sedentary living.

One of the authors Tobias Richter, an archaeologist from the University of Copenhagen, explains that the Natufian culture is significant in studying prehistoric humans since theirs was a transitional period that saw the shift in diet and lifestyle.

Tools found at various Natufian sites already had scientists suspecting that the people have started using plants in a different way at the time. The bread remains at Shubayqa 1 confirm a number of their ideas and open the door to more research in this direction.

Still, despite their initial suspicions, there were some findings of the study that surprised the Shubayqa 1 researchers. Richter tells Gizmodo that the first was that bread came before agriculture and farming, since it has long been believed that the opposite is true.

"Second, that the bread was of high quality, since it was made using quite fine flour. We didn't expect to find such high-quality flour this early on in human history," he continues. "Third, the hunter-gatherer bread we have does not only contain flour from wild barley, wheat and oats, but also from tubers, namely tubers from water plants (sedges). The bread was therefore more of a multi-grain-tuber bread, rather than a white loaf."

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