Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Stone Age Bread

This seems to be a month for discoveries relating to Stone Age food.

This article from The Independent, a British newspaper, reports on an archaeological find from Jordan that goes back approximately 14,000 years, to the Upper Paleolithic period of the Stone Age.

In a surviving fireplace at a site called Shubayqa 1, archaeologists from the University of Copenhagen found a piece of flatbread, made with a strain of wild, uncultivated wheat--approximately 3,500 years before the beginnings of agriculture.  The researchers stress the fact that, given the relatively poor nutritive value of this strain of wheat, the work involved in making the wheat into bread would not have made it more nutritious.  Instead, they believe that the flatbread was made for a special communal meal--a forerunner of communal meals eaten in the same region of the world today.

Also of interest is the fact that, although barley was the most common cereal plant in the Near East at that time, the food maker chose to use wheat.  This may well have been because wheat contains more gluten, and dough made from wheat rather than barley can be more easily used to make bread.  Moreover, wheat can be used to make much thinner flatbreads than barley.  

The researchers believe that this discovery tends to show that cuisine--the creation of more interesting foods to be eaten for social purposes as well as for mere sustenance--came before agriculture, not the other way around.  

The researchers' report on the find will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, should any of readers of this blog be motivated to track down the actual report.

On a side note, the observation that the Stone Age residents of Jordan, despite living in a barley-rich area, chose to use wheat to make flatbread, suggests that I've been going about my Viking flatbread experiments wrong.  Although the Vikings may well have incorporated barley in their bread-making, they probably would have used wheat in their flatbreads, either alone or combined with barley--for the same reason the Stone Age Jordinians used it--because it makes better bread!  My future flatbread experiments will be conducted with this knowledge in mind.


  1. Thanks for the amount of detail.

    Very interesting point about people being impractical now and then.

    1. True. But note the hypothesized reason. Ceremony--or religion (often part of the same thing) and ultimately social bonding. It says something interesting about home sapiens sapiens that such things are so important to us that we bend our food practices away from the merely practical to support them.

      Oh, and thanks for stopping by!