Humans’ love for cheese and beer goes back a long way. But workers at a salt mine in Austria were already enjoying blue cheese and beer 2,700 years ago, according to a scientific study published Wednesday.
The scientists made the discovery by analyzing samples of human excrement found at the center of the Hallstatt mine in the Austrian Alps. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Current Biology.
Frank Maxner, a microbiologist at the Urac Research Institute in Bolzano, Italy, who was the report’s lead author, said he was surprised to learn that salt miners two millennia ago were advanced enough to “use fermentation deliberately.”
“It’s very sophisticated in my opinion,” Maxner told AFP. “It’s something I didn’t expect at the time.”
According to the researchers, the discovery was the earliest evidence to date of the ripening of cheese in Europe.
And while alcohol consumption is certainly well documented in older writings and archaeological evidence, the feces of salt miners contained the first molecular evidence of beer consumption on the continent at the time.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that not only were prehistoric culinary practices sophisticated, but that complex processed foods, as well as the techniques of fermentation, played a major role in our early food history,” said Kerstin Kovrik of the Natural History Museum Vienna. said .
The city of Hallstatt, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been used for salt production for more than 3,000 years, according to Maxner.
The community is “a very special place, it is 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 day there, worked, ate food and went to the bathroom in the mine there.
It is thanks to the constant temperature of around 8C (46F) and the high concentration of salt in the mine that the miners’ feces were preserved particularly well.
The researchers analyzed four specimens: 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 have two fungi, Penicillium rocforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Both are known today for their use in cooking.
(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)