World’s oldest bread ever found predates agriculture by 4,000 years

The oldest bread ever found has been discovered by archaeologists in Jordan at the ancient site known as Shubayqa 1 and the bread may not only have helped sparked the cultivation of grains, it predates agriculture by 4,000 years.

Believe it or not, sliced bread is not that old. In fact, legendary actress Betty White is literally older than sliced bread, having been born in 1922 while sliced bread came about six years later in 1928.

But there is no way that Betty White can claim to be older than the latest discovery involving bread because she’d have to be immortal, although we can always hope she is because she’s a national treasure.

A team of researchers in Jordan lead by University of Copenhagen archaeologist Tobias Richter searched the fireplaces at hunter-gather site Shubayqa 1 and found “hundreds of charred food remains,” including charred bread that turned out to be 14,400 years old.

The team says that the finding shows that our ancestors made bread long before the advent of farming and that it may have even been a spark that contributed to the cultivation of cereals, which are grains such as wheat, rice, rye, oats, barley, corn, and sorghum.

In a report published by theNational Academy of Sciences, archaeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui, from the University of Copenhagen wrote:

“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.”

Image via National Academy of Sciences

The bread was found to be similar to flatbread found at Neolithic sites that date back to 10,000 BC and Roman sites later on.

“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 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.”

Richter says that humans at this time in this area became a little lazier and sought easier ways to put food on the table. Gathering wild grains to bake bread was very convenient, giving them more time to focus on other things besides food production.

“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,” he told the University.

“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.”
“So this evidence confirms some of our ideas. Indeed, it may be that the early and extremely time-consuming production of bread based on wild cereals may have been one of the key driving forces behind the later agricultural revolution where wild cereals were cultivated to provide more convenient sources of food.”

In order to identify the bread from the charred remains, they had to be placed under a microscope, which is what prehistoric bread expert Lara Gonzalez Carratero of University College London did.

“The identification of ‘bread’ or other cereal-based products in archaeology is not straightforward,” she explained. “There has been a tendency to simplify classification without really testing it against an identification criteria. We have established a new set of criteria to identify flat bread, dough and porridge like products in the archaeological record. Using Scanning Electron Microscopy we identified the microstructures and particles of each charred food remain.”


Image via National Academy of Sciences

And bread-making was not the easiest task back then, which is why the people who made it must have thought it was really special, unlike modern humans who take bread for granted every day.

“Bread involves labour intensive processing which includes dehusking, grinding of cereals and kneading and baking,” University of Copenhagen Professor Dorian Fuller explained.”

“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. All of this relies on new methodological developments that allow us to identify the remains of bread from very small charred fragments using high magnification.”

Indeed, the decision to cultivate cereals directly led to the production of ancient ring-shaped “Cheerios” that date back to around 1000 BC, 13,000 years after the oldest bread was made and 9,000 years after agriculture began.

The rings are “made of dough from rather finely ground wheat and barley meal which was most likely air-dried or baked at low temperature prior to charring,” the team in Austria that made the discovery said.


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Image via PLOS Journal

The bread found by the University of Copenhagen team also found traces of wheat and barley in the charred remains.

This is yet another groundbreaking study that changes our knowledge of our ancestors, and it’s enough that the team secured further funding to continue their research.

“The Danish Council for Independent Research has recently approved further funding for our work, which will allow us to investigate how people consumed different plants and animals in greater detail,” Richter revealed.

“Building on our research into early bread, this will in the future give us a better idea why certain ingredients were favoured over others and were eventually selected for cultivation.”

Who knows, maybe the team will end up finding bread even older than what they already found. They’ve already rewrote history once, why not twice?


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