The world’s oldest lunch box has recently been discovered in the Swiss Alps after having been left there by its owner 3,500 years ago, making it a Bronze Age artifact now. The lunch box was found around the summit of Lotschenpass, which is roughly 8,700 feet above sea level. It is believed that the owner of this wooden container either abandoned it altogether or, more likely, accidentally left it behind in the year 1500 B.C. where it remained frozen up until today.
A careful analysis of the 3,500-year-old lunch box revealed that it contained barley, spelt, and emmer, which makes this the first time in history that a study about food contents as detailed as this has been successfully achieved on a Bronze Age relic.
Jessica Hendy from the Max Planck Institute in Germany explained that grains such as these normally do not stand the test of time for as long as the ones in this lunch box have, as the International Business Times reports.
“The box has this kind of strange amorphous residue on it. Cereal grains quite rarely survive thousands of years. Sometimes they survive when they’re charred, but then they lose some of their diagnostic traits. Now we have a method to study this in a lot more detail.”
When the team of archeologists from the University of York first stumbled upon the 3,500-year-old lunch box, they were fairly convinced that they might perhaps find a bit of milk residue left behind inside of it and the remains of a rushed porridge meal eaten quickly by its previous owner on a break from hunting or herding.
Once the scientists began analyzing the contents of the lunch box, they noticed biomarkers that were fat-based for either rye grain or whole wheat, known as alkylresorcinols. Because plants normally degrade extremely fast, scientists use molecular techniques like this to better understand the contents of plant-based residue.
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Dr. Andre Carlo Colonese, the lead researcher on this project, noted that because the 3,500-year-old lunch box was in such good condition, it appeared at first glance as though it had only been left behind for months rather than thousands of years, according to the Daily Mail.
“The deposit has been preserved because it was frozen in an ice patch until recently, when the ice started melting. It was in very good condition, as if it was left up there just a few months ago. It is not only significant for the development of early farming societies in Eurasia, but for the rest of the world as we know it today.”
Colonese explained that the introduction of grain into agriculture 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent is what effectively created the society that we have today.
“Thanks to the societies of the Near East that managed to transform the size, morphology and productivity of some wild grasses approximately 10,000 years ago, wheat has become one of the pillars of the modern global economy. This long and complex process of plant domestication enabled past societies to improve plant yield and land productivity. This led to human population growth and the accumulation of surpluses.”
Thanks to the lucky find of this 3,500-year-old lunch box in the Swiss Alps, scientists will be able to trace further evidence of early farming life in Eurasia. This is important, because over the course of recent decades archaeologists have mainly found traces of meat or milk products in artifacts from Europe, with very little cereals or grains surviving. But thanks to modern technology like molecular analysis and microscopy, scientists believe that the alpine pass where this lunch box was discovered may have once been a busy path used to transport grains to other regions.
Dr. Andre Carlo Colonese has even suggested that these grains may have once been used as a kind of Bronze Age protein bar to help hikers in high altitude regions.
“This discovery shows that cereal grains were being used beyond domestic consumption. We knew that people were taking cereal grains to the highlands during the Bronze Age in Switzerland, but now it is clear that these grains would also have been used as sources of energy during high altitude hiking – like the energy bars people eat while trekking through the mountains today.”
Because of the melting ice in the Alps, scientists may continue to discover other exciting finds like this 3,500-year-old Bronze Age lunch box.
[Featured Image by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images]