This undated image courtesy of the Museum of Natural History of Vienna shows a roughly 2,700-year-old human excrement from the Hallstatt salt mines in which beans, millet and barley are clearly visible Photo: Museum of Natural History of Vienna/AFP
food

Humans enjoyed blue cheese and beer 2,700 years ago: study

21 Comments
By Lucie AUBOURG

It's no secret that beer and cheese go hand in hand -- but a new study reveals how deep their roots run in Europe, where workers at a salt mine in Austria were gorging on both up to 2,700 years ago.

Scientists made the discovery by analyzing samples of human excrement found at the heart of the Hallstatt mine in the Austrian Alps. The study was published in the journal Current Biology on Wednesday.

Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at the Eurac Research Institute in Bolzano, Italy, who was the lead author of the report, said he was surprised to learn that salt miners more than two millennia ago were advanced enough to "use fermentation intentionally."

"This is very sophisticated in my opinion," Maixner told AFP. "This is something I did not expect at that time."

The finding was the earliest evidence to date of cheese ripening in Europe, according to researchers.

And while alcohol consumption is certainly well documented in older writings and archaeological evidence, the salt miners' feces contained the first molecular evidence of beer consumption on the continent at that time.

"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.

The town of Hallstatt, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been used for salt production for more than 3,000 years.

The community "is a very particular place, it's located in the Alps, in the middle of nowhere," he explained. "The whole community worked and lived from this mine."

The miners spent their entire days there, working, eating and going to the bathroom in the mine.

It is thanks to the constant temperature of around 8C (46F) and the high concentration of salt at the mine that the miners' feces were preserved particularly well.

Researchers analyzed four samples: one dating back to the Bronze Age, two from the Iron Age and one from the 18th century.

One of them, about 2,700 years old, was found to contain two fungi, Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Both are known today for their use in food making.

"The Hallstatt miners seem to have intentionally applied food fermentation technologies with microorganisms which are still nowadays used in the food industry," Maixner said.

The researchers also studied the miners' diet, which consisted mainly of cereals, some fruit, and beans and meats as the source of protein.

"The diet was exactly what these miners needed, in my opinion," Maixner said. "It's clearly balanced and you have all major components you need."

The main difference with today's menus is the degree of food processing, which was very low at the time. The Bronze and Iron Age miners used whole grains, suggesting the consumption of some kind of porridge. For the 18th-century miners, the grains appeared ground, indicating they ate bread or cookies.

One of the study's other findings was the composition of the miners' microbiota, or the set of bacteria present in their bodies.

In the four samples studied, the microbiota were very similar to that of modern non-Western populations, which tend to have a more traditional lifestyle.

This suggests a "recent shift" in the microbiota of industrialized humans, "probably due to modern lifestyle, diet, or medical advances," the study said.

However, microbiota are often linked to different modern diseases, Maixner said. According to him, determining when exactly this change occurred could help scientists understand what caused it.

© 2021 AFP

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


21 Comments

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What! No pretzels! Oh, the Cenozoic humanity of it all!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

So what?

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Actually it's wine and cheese.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Prince Charles runs his Aston Martin James Bond car on wine and Cheese. Made a stupid comment the other day.

"There are two things which run on wine and cheese. My Aston Martin, and my wife."

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Humans that comes or descend from Europe have a higher capability to digest dairy product because they started to consume such products in very ancient times.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the revelation that my ancestors were Austrian.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

This suggests a "recent shift" in the microbiota of industrialized humans, 

Yes, no KFC fries. We had that story just the other day.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Agree @Farmboy 1:36pm. Remarkable photo evidence that humans may have taken a “recent shift”:

- “This suggests a "recent shift" in the microbiota of industrialized humans, “… very sophisticated," Maixner told AFP. "something I did not expect at that time." ”beans, millet and barley are clearly visible”

ALL available in Japan yet, in very small amounts and, at exorbitantly expensive prices.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Looks to me like the shift isn't recent. Looks like it's 2,700 years old.

...

... oh, shift?

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Understood @ExpressSister 2:07pm. Obviously it was in Austria for the Bronze, placing tird in the spelunking event.

Researchers analyzed four samples: one dating back to the Bronze Age, two from the Iron Age and one from the 18th century.”
-1 ( +1 / -2 )

This would have to be the first time an article here has been led off with a photograph of a lump of excrement, would it not?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It is clear to see, as this article itself mentions, that these conclusions are all based on s..t. Sometimes it is just the same old ....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Zichi, no not stupid, it was a humorous comment in an otherwise serious and thoughtful interview, a witty way of expressing an environmentally conscious decision to change the fuel running his favourite car to a sustainably sourced fuel derived from waste wine and the whey from cheese making. Keeping the same car for over 50 years is also a very environmental beneficial thing as the embodied carbon in its production is a massive part of any cars total environmental footprint.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I’ve seen biscuits made by children that looked like that!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Understood @ExpressSister 2:07pm. Obviously it was in Austria for the Bronze, placing tird in the spelunking event.

placing tird

Yes, excellent.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Nah, its WINE and CHEESE. Every time.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well, not bull....

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

There was trade of this Hallstatt salt for those grains, legumes & beans, presumedly from as far as the Mediterranean cultures found in this 2700 year old poop. - Foundations of capitalism in the Bronze Age, blossoming from thriving agrarian economies, *just before it all went to site* for some unexplained reason?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

And in 22100 they’ll be looking at perfectly (undigested) preserved fast food…bits

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Trade and capitalism are not the same thing.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

It was meant as an ‘on-topic’ question ‘*for some lightfhearted conversation *@ExpSister 3:38pm:

*- “…just before it all went to s ite *for some unexplained reason ?” -

*- @ExpSister 3:38pm: “**Trade and capitalism are not the same thing.”*

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

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