Ancient excrement shows humans supped on beer and blue cheese 2,700 years ago
People living in Europe some 2,700 years ago enjoyed beer and blue cheese, scientists have discovered after analysing ancient faeces samples.
Workers in the Hallstatt salt mine at the heart of the Austrian Alps were partial to the pairing, a new study has found.
The samples, from humans living almost three millennia ago, are the earliest evidence to date of cheese ripening in Europe, researchers say. The primitive poo is also the earliest molecular example of beer consumption on the continent.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that not only were prehistoric culinary practices sophisticated, but also that complex processed foodstuffs as well as the technique of fermentation have held a prominent role in our early food history,” said Kerstin Kowarik, of the Museum of Natural History Vienna, according to The Guardian.
Of the four samples analysed by researchers, one was from the Bronze Age, two from the Iron Age, and one from the 18th Century.
Classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the town of Hallstatt has been used for salt production for 3,000 years.
Miners spent entire days within the mines, eating and relieving themselves there. Excrement was preserved particularly well due to the high level of salt and constant temperature of around 8°C at the mine.
Scientists were surprised to see humans from 2,700 years ago were advanced enough to be using intentional fermentation methods in their food.
Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at the Eurac Research Institute in Bolzano, Italy, who was the lead author of the report, commented on the “sophisticated” method. He said: “This is something I did not expect at the time.”
Archaeologists in south-east China have found microfossil residues left over from early beer drinking at a large burial site. The discovery is thought to evidence ancient drinking rituals at funerals. Read more on that here.