Tuesday, September 4, 2018

More Archaeology--The Endurance of Cheese

Several recent articles, including this one referenced on A Stitch in Time (thanks again, Katrin!) discusses an archaeological find from Egypt that establishes the antiquity, and to some extent, the  importance of cheese as a human food.  

The recent re-discovery of an Egyptian tomb originally found in the 1880s includes a 3,200-year-old cheese, about the size of a small car tire (as best as I can tell from the pictures).  It was found in the tomb of a high-ranking official of the Pharoah, and had been in a large pottery jar that got broken somehow.  Analysis of the fats found in the pottery confirm that the mass was cheese, even though chemical changes in the "cheese" have made it as hard as stone.  The paper written by the researchers of their study of the cheese remains can be found here.

The significance of this find is that people who are lactose intolerant can still consume cheese.  The gene that permits Europeans and some other people to digest lactose has been determined to be 2,500 years old, while this cheese is much older.

The find also demonstrates both the ingenuity of humankind in expanding the number of available foodstuffs, and the perils of that journey.  The tomb find also showed traces of a bacterium which causes a disease called brucellosis, which can be contracted by eating foods made from unpasteurized milk.  


  1. Even older cheese:


    1. Hi! Thanks for stopping by.

      The Croatian find shows that cheese making is much older than 3,200 years, all right, but it consists of analysis of traces in pottery strainers, not analysis of a entire surviving cheese. The Egyptian find is of an entire cheese. I think I posted about a similar find in Poland a while ago. Thanks for the comment, though; it's good to point out that cheesemaking is even older than the Egyptian find.