Cheese blue and beer had been consumed since the Bronze Age. This is documented by analyzes carried out on human excrement, coprolites, preserved in exceptionally good conditions in the sales mines of Hallstatt, Austria by an research team, led by Eurac Research of Bolzano and the Natural History Museum of Vienna.
Providing archaeological methods and biomolecular technologies has proved fruitful, providing surprising insights into prehistoric eating habits and food production. The results of the study are published in the journal Current Biology. Hallstatt is the oldest still operating sales mine in the world. Thanks to the high concentration of sales in the galleries and the constant temperature of 8 ° C, the millenary remains – including organic objects such as textiles, utensils, food remains – have been preserved exceptionally well. “The samples we examined are highly preserved, still containing human DNA, as well as DNA from intestinal bacteria and also proteins and parts of the ingested food,” explains Frank Maixner, microbiologist at Eurac Research.
In an Iron Age sample, the research team unexpectedly discovered large quantities of two species of fungi – Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae – which are used to refine and ferment food, in this case blue and beer. “The analyzes indicate indications that these specific production variants were not used casually, but were specific grown and used for brewing,” says Maixner. The consumption of a dish that consisted essentially of cattle blood, possibly an Iron Age black pudding, has also been documented. The department of cellular, computational and integrated biology of the University of Trento and the Institute for Systems Biology of Seattle (USA) also collaborated on the study.