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2,700 Year-Old Faeces Reveal ‘Sophisticated’ Diet

by : Poppy Bilderbeck on : 14 Oct 2021 18:53
2,700 Year-Old Faeces Reveal 'Sophisticated' DietAlamy

Upon discovering 2,700-year-old faeces in the Austrian Alps, scientists have revealed that Europeans were just as classy in their eating and drinking habits as we are today. 

Human excrement found within the Hallstatt mine and belonging to salt mine workers in Austria was analysed by scientists to uncover what people’s diets were like nearly 2,700 years ago.

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The site where the faeces was located was the Unesco World Heritage site in Hallstatt, which had previously been active for 3,000 years of salt production, The Guardian reports.

The samples were able to be discovered on the basis of being well preserved by the constant temperature of about 8C (46F) and high salt concentration.

Lead author of the report and microbiologist at the Eurac Research Institute in Bolzano, Italy, Frank Maixner, expressed his surprise at the discovery.

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When you think of a stereotype of what Brits loving drinking and mix it with a stinky French cheese, what do you get? This faeces apparently. That’s right, humans were gorging on blue cheese and beer all those years ago.

According to Maixner, the faeces showed that miners used ‘fermentation intentionally’, leaving him shocked at how advanced humans were all those years ago, calling the miners ‘very sophisticated’, as a result.

Contrary to alcohol consumption, which is well documented throughout history, the faeces sample is the earliest evidence to date of the ripening of cheese in Europe, researchers noted.

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However, the finding of the miners’ beer consumption was the first molecular piece of evidence ever found on the continent.

According to Maixner, everyone in the community of Hallstatt ‘worked and lived from this mine’, eating, drinking, working and going to the loo within its confines.

Kerstin Kowarik, of the Museum of Natural History Vienna, stated:

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It is becoming increasingly clear that not only were prehistoric culinary practices sophisticated, but also that complex processed foodstuffs as well as the technique of fermentation have held a prominent role in our early food history.

Four samples of faeces were analysed by researchers, spanning from the bronze age to the 18th century, with two discovered as being from the iron age.

The eldest faeces, at around 2,700 years old, contained two types of fungi, which are now used in modern food-making.

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The miner’s diet was also studied, with Maixner noting how sensible and ‘clearly balanced’ it was, in consisting of ‘mainly […] cereals, some fruit, and beans and meats as a source of protein’.

The miners’ microbiota had similarities to those of modern non-western populations and suggested a ‘recent shift’ in industrialised humans, which the study noted as likely being down to ‘modern lifestyle, diet, or medical advances’.

In order to understand what caused the shift, Maixner said that the study, which was published in the journal Current Biology, on Wednesday, October 13, would need to uncover exactly when the change took place.

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Topics: Science, beer

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The Guardian
  1. The Guardian

    ‘Sophisticated’: ancient faeces shows humans enjoyed beer and blue cheese 2,700 years ago