7 of the World’s Oldest Foods Discovered by Archeologists
Food rots fast. Therefore it is cause for great history-nerd celebration when archeologists dig up food preserved centuries past its expiration date. Here are seven of the most venerable victuals.
1. Roman Tomb Wine
There was a long period in history in which Romans infested the world like fleas. Wealthy, heavily armed, road-building fleas. And when they died, they liked to be buried in style. Because of that, a bottle of their wine has reached our modern world. The wine, found by excavators in Germany, is the oldest known that is still in a liquid state. It was discovered in one of two sarcophaguses, alongside many other bottles that had long since dried up. This bottle stayed wet because the olive oil used (in place of a cork) to protect the wine from oxidizing did its job really well. And what was the result of 1600 years of aging? The contents are both waxy and silty, and the alcohol content is long gone. Still, the bouquet is quite piquant, obstinate even. Recommended pairing is roasted ox.
2. Burnt British Bread
Some say it was a garbage pit, some think it was place of religious offering. Whatever it was originally, by the 21st century it had become a big hole, flooded with water, and it had small pieces of burnt bread and other Neolithic odds and ends floating in it. The bread was the most important discovery. Found in Oxfordshire, England, and estimated to be 5500 years old, the overcooked bread was mistaken for charcoal at first. Then one of the archeologists noticed crushed grains of barley inside of it. If the age is correct, it would have been made by some of the first people to enter Britain from Europe. That crushed barley represents a world-altering revolution, as the newcomers brought with them the fledgling practice of farming, sadly ending the age of throwing pointy sticks at mammoths.
3. Bone Soup
While excavating to make way for a new airport, Chinese workers struck liquid gold. Well, liquid gold if you happen to be an archeologist. Or really into soup. The soup, sealed so tightly in its bronze cooking pot that it was still in a liquid state, was discovered in a tomb near Xian. It didn’t look too savory, having turned green from 2400 years of bronze oxidation. It also still contained bones, which delighted archeologists, probably because they didn’t actually have to eat it.
4. Bog Butter
In Ireland of 3000 years ago, there were limited options for storing your 77 pound barrels of butter. Archeologists are eternally grateful that the inhabitants near a Kildare bog chose to sink theirs into peat, and then forgot about it, because it was still there in 2009. Amazingly, it was intact but for one split, and still full of butter. The butter has lost some of its creamy richness in the interceding millennia, turning to a fatty white wax called adipocere. The National Museum of Ireland conservator Carol Smith says the public will never know how it tastes. "It's a national treasure," she said. "You can't be going hacking bits of it off for your toast!"
5. The Original Noodles
Nature/KBK Teo/E Minoux et al
Everyone says they invented the noodle first. The Chinese, the Italians, the Arabs, they all want credit for that staple of the impoverished college student’s dinner. But thanks to a discovery at the Lajia archeological site on the Yellow River in China, the debate may be over. No other historic noodle has even come close to Lajia’s 4000 year old noodles cache. In the aftermath of an ancient earthquake, the Yellow River flooded, causing disaster to those who lived along it. In his haste to get away, one unfortunate diner left his bowl of millet grass noodles overturned. "It was this unique combination of factors that created a vacuum or empty space between the top of the sediment cone and the bottom of this bowl that allowed the noodles to be preserved," archeologist Kam-biu Liu said. China for the win! In your face, Ziti!
6. Beef Jerky
Beef jerky travels well, especially if your journey is on to the next world. That is probably why whoever was buried in the 2000 year old tomb found in the village of Wanli, China, packed so much of it. Archeologists took a while to determine that the black and green carbonized mess they found sealed inside a beautiful bronze pot was beef. When they did, that made it the oldest beef ever discovered in China. They could even prove it was actually jerky, as it had not shrunk over the millennia, showing it had already been dried before being placed in the tomb.
This 110 year old tin of chocolate does not date from antiquity like the rest of the food on this list, but it still might be the world’s oldest chocolate. There is evidence that chocolate (usually liquid) was made in ancient times, but not much actual chocolate candy has been left uneaten long enough to become antiquated. This little box comes from Scotland, and was made especially to commemorate the coronation day of King Edward VII in 1902. The chocolate passed from the original schoolgirl who abstained from eating it, mother to daughter, until it was donated to the St. Andrews Preservation Trust in 2008. I call the caramels. You can have the coconut.