[Archaeologists have uncovered the earliest evidence of
bread-making showing that ancient hunter-gatherers were making and
eating bread 4,000 years before the Neolithic era and the introduction
of agriculture.] [https://portside.org/] 

 DISCOVERY OF 14,000-YEAR-OLD TOAST SUGGESTS BREAD CAN BE ADDED TO
PALEO DIET  
[https://portside.org/2018-07-22/discovery-14000-year-old-toast-suggests-bread-can-be-added-paleo-diet]


 

 George Dvorsky 
 July 16, 2018
Gizmodo
[https://gizmodo.com/discovery-of-14-000-year-old-toast-suggests-bread-can-b-1827631358]


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 _ Archaeologists have uncovered the earliest evidence of bread-making
showing that ancient hunter-gatherers were making and eating bread
4,000 years before the Neolithic era and the introduction of
agriculture. _ 

 One of the stone structures of the Shubayqa 1 site where the ancient
bread was found., Alexis Pantos 

 

Archaeologists have uncovered the earliest evidence of bread-making at
a site in northeastern Jordan. Dating back some 14,400 years, the
discovery shows that ancient hunter-gatherers were making and eating
bread 4,000 years before the Neolithic era and the introduction of
agriculture. So much for the “Paleo Diet” actually being a thing.

Bread-making predates agriculture, according
[http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1801071115] to a new study
published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
That’s quite the revelation, given the conventional thinking that
bread only appeared after the advent of farming. The discovery means
that ancient hunter-gatherers were using the wild ancestors of
domesticated cereals, such as wild einkorn and club-rush tubers, to
make flatbread-like food products. What’s more, the new paper shows
that bread had already become an established food staple prior to the
Neolithic period and the Agricultural Revolution.

A research team led by Amaia Arranz-Otaegu from the University of
Copenhagen analyzed fragments of charred food remains found at a
Natufian hunter-gatherer site in northeastern Jordan called Shubayqa
1. The remains of the burnt bread, found in two ancient basalt-stone
fireplaces, were radiocarbon dated to 14,400 years ago, give or take a
couple of hundred years. This corresponds to the early Natufian period
and the Upper Paleolithic era. The Natufian culture lived in the
Levant, a region in the Eastern Mediterranean, from around 14,600 to
11,600 years ago.

Prior to this discovery, the oldest known bread came from the
9,500-year-old settlement of Çatalhöyük, located in Anatolia,
Turkey. Çatalhöyük dates back to the Neolithic era, a time when
ancient humans had already settled in permanent villages and developed
farming. The bread found at Shubayqa 1 pre-dates the Çatalhöyük
bread by around 5,000 years, and it’s now the oldest example of
bread-making in the archaeological record.

Scanning electron microscope images of bread-like remains from
Shubayqa 1.  Image: Amaia Arranz-Otaegui et al., 2018

For the study, the researchers analyzed 24 charred fragments of bread
from the Shubayqa 1 excavation site using a Scanning Electron
Microscope (SEM). Using SEM, the researchers were able to obtain the
high resolution images required for studying the fine structures
embedded within the charred materials. These images were compared to
experimentally produced bread, allowing the researchers to identify
the archaeological specimens. SEM analysis is quite time consuming,
and the researchers only managed to analyze 24 fragments out of a
total of 600 pieces that appear to be bread or bread-like remains.

Tobias Richter, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen
and a co-author of the new study, said the discovery was surprising on
a number of levels.

“First, that bread predates the advent of agriculture and
farming—it was always thought that it was the other way round,”
Richter told Gizmodo. “Second, that the bread was of high quality,
since it was made using quite fine flour. We didn’t expect to find
such high-quality flour this early on in human history. Third, the
hunter-gatherer bread we have does not only contain flour from wild
barley, wheat and oats, but also from tubers, namely tubers from water
plants (sedges). The bread was therefore more of a multi-grain-tuber
bread, rather than a white loaf.”

Richter said the method used for identifying the bread fragments is
new, and that other researchers should use the technique to re-analyze
older archaeological collections to search for even earlier examples
of bread production.

“I think it’s quite important to recognize that bread is such a
hugely important staple in the world today,” said Richter. “That
it can now be shown to have started a lot earlier than previously
thought is quite intriguing, I think, and may help to explain the huge
variety of different types of breads that have evolved in different
cultures around the world over the millennia.

Dorian Fuller, an archaeobotanist at the University College London and
a co-author of the new study, said it’s highly plausible that
hunter-gatherers were able to make bread without the benefit of
agriculture.

“Bread at it its most basic is flour, water, and dry heat. The flour
should also ideally include some protein, such as gluten, that occurs
in wheat to hold the batter together and provide elasticity,” Fuller
told Gizmodo. “So this requires a suitable flour, and wild wheats
and barleys contain gluten.”

In addition, the necessary equipment to produce flour, like stone
tools to pulverize grains, were already in existence by the time this
ancient bread was made, as some of the oldest examples date back
25,000 years or more. “So the fact that people would have ground
stuff to process it is not surprising,” said Richter. Lastly, the
third element to making bread—dry, baking heat—would likely exist
in a culture without ceramics, which describes this particular culture
at the time.

Ehud Weiss, an archaeobotanist at Bar-Ilan University who wasn’t
involved with the new study, says the new paper describes a
significant discovery.

“One of the interesting aspects of reconstructing our ancestors’
diet is the technology they used,” Weiss told Gizmodo. “Here, it
is clear these people grinded and mixed several types of foodstuff,
cereals, and root food to create a baked product.”

Weiss says it’s important to remember that caloric return was a
major issue with hunter-gatherers’ diet, especially in challenging
environments. Ground and baked foodstuffs have a higher glycemic index
(GI) than raw food, where GI is a relative ranking of carbohydrates in
foods according to how they affect blood glucose levels.

“Today, we use GI as a tool to avoid food that will add too much
sugars to our blood stream,” said Weiss. For hunter-gatherers who
struggle in hostile environments to gain more energy from their food,
the situation is, of course, the opposite. The ability to increase the
caloric return from their food is, therefore, an important step in the
development of human nutrition.”

Francesca Balossi Restelli from the Sapienza University of Rome, also
not involved with the new study, wasn’t surprised by the finding,
saying a discovery of this nature was expected.

“Certainly, finding charred remains of flour products is the
much-needed demonstration of what the large quantity of mortars,
pestles, and moulders were already showing us,” Restelli told
Gizmodo. “If people were cultivating plants, if they had mortars,
then they must have been baking ‘bread-like’ foods. The discovery
described in the PNAS article is thus certainly extremely meaningful,
but not totally unexpected. It is very nice news, as it confirms
today’s trend of thought and research.”

University of Cambridge archaeobotanist Martin Jones is excited about
the new paper, both for what it tells about about the dietary habits
of paleolithic humans, and in the use of a new technique to study the
bits and pieces of plant material left behind by ancient humans.

“If we listen to many of the familiar narratives about how humans
ate before the advent of agriculture, we hear a great deal about
animals, and a bit about seafood,” Jones told Gizmodo. “We have
got nowhere near as far with understanding how they worked with
plants, and it is beginning to come clear that plant-based cuisine is
very old indeed, and very significant.”

“Looking at pulverized plant material is still quite novel,” Jones
said. “We archaeobotanists understandably feel more confident about
identifying plants before they have been mashed to a pulp. But the
SEMs here show how much cellular pattern is still discernible, and how
fruitful it can be to persevere and give it a closer look.”

As a final note, this study reminds us, yet again, that the so-called
Paleo Diet isn’t an actual thing, or at the very least, not a
coherent, unified diet that existed across multiple populations of
paleolithic peoples. What’s more, this study doesn’t tell us which
particular ancestral diet was the “healthiest,” and it’s
doubtful that archaeology can tells us anything meaningful in this
regard. When it comes to a balanced, healthy diet, you should listen
to the experts
[http://www.heartandstroke.ca/get-healthy/healthy-eating/healthy-eating-basics]:
Eat lots of vegetables and fruit, choose whole grains, get your
protein, and avoid highly processed foods, especially those with added
sugar.

[PNAS [http://www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1801071115]]

_George Dvorsky is a senior staff reporter at Gizmodo._

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