Archeologists discover hundreds of burnt food remains in an oven in Jordan. One of the charred foods is a burnt bread of 14,400 years old.
The discovery suggested that ancient people baked bread at least 4,000 years ahead of the agricultural revolution during the Neolithic period. The bread is flat and most likely resembled the pita.
The team was able to analyze 24 charred remains of the oldest bread sample and found that the ancient people used the undomesticated versions of barley, einkorn, and oat before their successors cultivated domesticated versions. One ingredient that may be considered the specialty ingredient of this ancient flatbread was the tubers.
More so, the pre-Neolithic people had already used their tools to ground, sieve, and knead wild cereals years ahead before the peak of farming.
World's Oldest Crumbs From Jordan
For their study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on July 16, the archeologists used a technique called Scanning Electron Microscopy. The method allowed the team to identify the microstructures and particles of each of the charred food remains they found in the site.
"The remains are very similar to unleavened flatbreads identified at several Neolithic and Roman sites in Europe and Turkey. So we now know that bread-like products were produced long before the development of farming," said Amaia Arranz Otaegui, first author of the study and an archaeobotanist from the University of Copenhagen.
The remains were acquired from an oven found in the archeological site known as Shubayqa 1 located in the Black Desert in northeastern Jordan. The oven is one of the tools used by a culture called the Natufian, which was characterized by the emergence of a sedentary lifestyle.
The Natufian Hunter-Gatherers
The hunter-gatherers that belonged to the Natufian culture are believed to have lived through a transitional period from the nomadic lifestyle to a more sedentary way of life where they already preferred to stay in one community. Hence, they were the people believed to have paved the way for dietary changes observed from the people in the subsequent periods.
The Natufian culture was also characterized by the use of flint sickle blades and ground stone tools. Previous studies aimed to pin down evidence that people who embraced the Natufian culture had long been utilizing plants in a more advanced ways than what was initially thought. The discovery of the crumbs from the ancient flatbread confirmed this conclusion.
The team further concluded that since bread making with wild ingredients proved to be challenging for these hunter-gatherers, they decided to domesticate or cultivate cereals for convenience. From then on, barley, einkorn, oats, wheat, and other grains were planted and became a staple to the diet of people up until today.
"Bread involves labor-intensive processing which includes dehusking, grinding of cereals and kneading and baking. That it was produced before farming methods suggests it was seen as special, and the desire to make more of this special food probably contributed to the decision to begin to cultivate cereals," explained Dorian Fuller, one of the researchers for the study and a professor at the University College London Institute of Archaeology.