World’s oldest bread found at prehistoric site in Jordan

Henrietta Strickland
July 20, 2018

Two dozen charred crumbs found in hearths at an ancient hunter-gatherer site in northeastern Jordan have been identified as the world's oldest samples of bread-specifically, a 14,400-year-old flatbread made from wild cereals.

The site of Shubayqa and one of the fireplaces, the oldest one, where the bread-like remains were discovered.

To make the bread, the Natufians likely began by grinding cereals and club-rush tubers-a starchy root-into a fine flour, Arranz Otaegui explains to BBC News' Helen Briggs.

"Flint sickle blades as well as ground stone tools found at Natufian sites in the Levant have long led archaeologists to suspect that people had begun to exploit plants in a different and perhaps more effective way".

Several samples of ancient bread were recovered from the hearth at an archaeological dig site in northeastern Jordan. "We need further investigations to assess what the role of cereal-based products like bread was during the Natufian [period]: whether they were staples, occasionally consumed plant-foods or prestigious items", she said.

University of Copenhagen archaeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui, one of the lead authors of the study, said that the fireplace was an "exceptional find" for the wealth of information it contains about prehistoric diets.

World's oldest bread shows hunter-gathers were baking 4,000 years before birth of farming
Oldest bread known to man found at prehistoric site in Jordan

The discovery by a team of researchers from the University of Copenhagen, University College London and University of Cambridge provides the earliest empirical evidence for the production of bread. The flatbread was prepared the old fashioned way with wild cereals like barley, einkorn or oats.

With the help of a scanning electron microscope, which uses a beam of electrons to return incredibly intricate zoomed-in images, the researchers identified 24 pieces of char that were decidedly breadlike. The team's findings, newly detailed in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that the Natufians, a people that lived in the Eastern Mediterranean from roughly 12,500 to 9,500 B.C., were baking bread centuries before their descendants started creating permanent agricultural settlements.

It's possible that given the presence of bread before farming, the desire for bread could have influenced the cultivation of cereals to make bread production easier, and according to Arranz Otaegui, that's what the researchers plan to delve into next. The structure was of oval shape, having a center fireplace, with the floor carefully made of flat basalt stones.

The research was funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark and permission to excavate was granted by the Department of Antiquities of Jordan.

Lara Gonzalez Carratero, an archaeologist and PhD candidate at University College London, used electronic microscopy to characterize the flatbread's composition. Arranz-Otaegui said that until now origins of age-old bread had been associated with early farming societies.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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