Humans ate blue cheese and drank beer 2,700 years ago, according to a study.
It’s no secret that beer and cheese go together, but a new study demonstrates how far back in Europe they go, with workers at an Austrian salt mine eating both up to 2,700 years ago.
Scientists made the discovery after examining samples of human excrement discovered deep inside the Hallstatt mine in the Austrian Alps. On Wednesday, the work was published in the journal Current Biology.
The report’s lead author, Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at the Eurac Research Institute in Bolzano, Italy, was shocked to hear that salt miners more than two millennia ago were advanced enough to “consciously exploit fermentation.”
“This, in my perspective, is quite clever,” Maixner told AFP. “This was not something I expected at the moment.” According to specialists, the discovery was the first evidence of cheese ripening in Europe.
While ancient literature and archaeological data show that people drank alcohol, the salt miners’ feces carried the first molecular evidence of beer drinking on the continent at the time.
“It’s becoming obvious that not only were prehistoric culinary practices sophisticated, but also that complex processed foodstuffs and the fermentation technology played a significant part in our early food history,” said Kerstin Kowarik of the Museum of Natural History Vienna.
For more than 3,000 years, the town of Hallstatt, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been used for salt manufacture.
He described the village as “a very special spot” because it is “placed in the Alps, in the middle of nowhere.” “This mine provided employment and sustenance to the entire village.” The miners spent their entire days in the mine, working, eating, and using the restroom.
The workers’ excrement were stored exceptionally well due to the mine’s continuous temperature of roughly 8°C (46°F) and high salt concentration.
Four samples were examined: one from the Bronze Age, two from the Iron Age, and one from the 18th century.
Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae were discovered in one of them, which was around 2,700 years old. Both are well-known in the food industry today.
“The Hallstatt miners appear to have employed food fermentation technology with microorganisms that are still used in the food sector today,” stated Maixner.
The miners’ diet, which consisted primarily of grains, some fruit, beans, and meats, was also analyzed. The Washington Newsday Brief News is a daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.