Remains of bread baked 14,400 years ago found in Jordan

An archaeologist grinds club rush for the experimental production of flour.

Story highlights

  • Archaeologists in northeast Jordan discovered what may be the first proof of bread-making
  • The discovery means that hunter-gatherers made bread, although it may have been a rare food

(CNN)Archaeologists have discovered the burnt remains of a bread baked 14,400 years ago, more than 4,000 years before the advent of agriculture.

The findings, excavated in northeastern Jordan's Black Desert, reveal the oldest direct evidence of bread and are discussed Monday in the journal PNAS. Twenty-four bread-like discoveries were found in two fireplaces in a Natufian hunter-gatherer site known as Shubayqa 1.
One of the stone structures with a fireplace in the middle at the Shubayqa 1 site in Jordan's Black Desert.
"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," said University of Copenhagen archaeobotanist Amaia Arranz Otaegui, the first author of the report, who is now on a dig in Iran.
    "So now we know that bread-like products were produced long before the development of farming," Otaegui said, adding that the bread production could have contributed to the agricultural revolution of the Neolithic period.
    The Epipaleolithic period bread was made of domesticated cereals and club-rush tubers, according to the study.
    Otaegui said she tasted the tubers they used, and "they were a little sweet and a bit salty and had a gritty texture, but maybe that's because we didn't clean them well enough."
    Previously, evidence of bread production was found in late Neolithic sites in Turkey and the Netherlands. The charred remains in Jordan are the first direct evidence that bread production preceded agriculture.
    Amaia Arranz Otaegui with assistant Ali Shokaiteer, sampling cereals in Shubayqa.
    "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," said University of Copenhagen archaeologist Tobias Richter, who led the excavations.
    The authors of the report noted that cereal-based foodstuffs were difficult to make. Hunter-gatherers may have considered them luxury foods "employed to impress invited guests and secure prestige for the hosts."
    "It is quite interesting," said food technologist Antonella Pasqualone, who did not work on this study but as a professor at the University of Bari specializes in cereal science and technology, and who has written several studies on bread.
    "Flat bread presents numerous advantages over 'high' and voluminous bread loaves, and in my opinion, a plausible hypothesis is that this kind of bread could be a perfect bridge between hunter-gatherers and stable farmers," Pasqualone said.
    Flat bread doesn't need a large oven, but it "could be baked simply by covering by sand and embers or by laying down the dough on a metal or a terracotta plate placed on the fire," she said. "Finally, flat breads could be easily transported with little encumbrance by stacking them on top of each other."
    "I think this offers a whole new perspective about the possibility of bread in this time period. The evidence is quite convincing," said Patrick McGovern, scientif