Archaeologists Have Discovered The Remains Of 14,400-Year-Old Bread That Was Baked By Hunter-Gatherers

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Researchers working in northeastern Jordan at the archaeological site of Shubayqa 1 have just made the astonishing discovery of the oldest bread that has ever been recovered anywhere, with this particular flatbread found to have been baked 14,400 years ago by someone who was living in a hunter-gatherer society.

This is an especially important find because this bread would have been baked more than 4,000 years before the start of the agricultural revolution. But, as Phys.org reports, the practice of baking bread like this with cereals that were growing wild may have helped to contribute to the meticulous cultivation and farming of these same cereals which really took off during the Neolithic Period.

According to their new study, a group of scientists from the University of Cambridge, the University of Copenhagen, and University College London have studied the remains of the 14,400-year-old bread using electronic microscopy and determined that wild einkorn, oat, and barley had been used by hunter-gatherers to make the special flatbread.

“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. 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.”

The study then went on to say that this flatbread had many things in common with other breads that have previously been discovered at different Roman and Neolithic archaeological sites.

“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. The next step is to evaluate if the production and consumption of bread influenced the emergence of plant cultivation and domestication at all.”

University of Copenhagen archaeologist Tobias Richter pointed out that the hunter-gatherers who would have baked this 14,400-year-old bread were known as Natufian hunter-gatherers. These individuals would have lived during a time of great change when compared with previous generations of hunter-gatherers. While still active, life would have been just a little more sedentary for those who would have made this bread.

“Natufian hunter-gatherers are of particular interest to us because they lived through a transitional period when people became more sedentary and their diet began to change. 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. But the flat bread found at Shubayqa 1 is the earliest evidence of bread making recovered so far, and it shows that baking was invented before we had plant cultivation.”

The new study on the hunter-gatherer flatbread that was baked 14,400 years ago in Jordan has been published in PNAS.