Archaeologists discover what may be oldest known piece of bread

Microscopic imaging confirmed that dough was fermented

Vishwam Sankaran
Wednesday 17 April 2024 11:22 BST
Related video: Making the perfect loaf of sourdough

Archaeologists in Turkey have uncovered what could be the oldest known piece of fermented bread made by humans at a site dating back to around 6,600 BC.

The piece of bread was discovered in Turkey’s central Anatolia in the ancient stone age site of Çatalhöyük – one of the largest and best-preserved remains of an early agrarian society around 8,600 years old.

Researchers suspect the early human settlement in the Turkish province of Konya flourished between 6,700 to 6,500 BC, and declined to be abandoned around 5,950 BC.

Artefacts and structures uncovered at the site over the years suggest the residents of Çatalhöyük were pioneers of early farming, known to have cultivated wheat and barley as well as herding sheep and goats.

The Unesco World Heritage site was one of the world’s first places of urbanisation, accommodating over 8,000 people in its heyday between around 10,000 BC to 2,000 BC.

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In a new excavation at the site, researchers have uncovered the remains of a building with what appears to be an ancient oven surrounded by wheat, barley, and pea seeds.

Archaeologists also found a “spongy” organic residue near the oven with the mark of a finger pressed at its center, which they determined to be uncooked fermented bread.

Microscopic imaging confirmed that the dough sample was indeed fermented with air bubbles trapped in it along with traces of starch grains.

“It is an exciting discovery for Turkey and the world,” biologist Salih Kavak from Turkey’s Gaziantep University said in a statement.

The earliest known evidence of fermented bread before this discovery was from ancient Egypt around 1,500 BC.

“The fact that the building was covered with fine clay has allowed both wood and bread to be stored to this day,” Ali Umut Türkcan, an archaeologist at Necmettin Erbakan University, said.

“We found that the bread has a porous, spongy structure and was not cooked,” Yasin Ramazan Eker, another archaeologist from the university, added.

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