At least 4,000 years before the advent of farming, humans were baking bread. Two dozen charred crumbs found in hearths at an ancient hunter-gatherer site in northeastern Jordan have been identified as the world's oldest samples of bread—specifically, a 14,400-year-old flatbread made from wild cereals. That predates the next oldest sample found in Turkey by 5,000 years. Making bread from scratch—including grinding cereals—is labor intensive, note the researchers. "That it was produced before farming methods suggests it was seen as special, and the desire to make more of this special food probably contributed to the decision to begin to cultivate cereals," says Dorian Fuller, one of a team of researchers who discovered the crumbs at the Natufian site of Shubayqa 1 in the Black Desert between 2012 and 2015, reports the Guardian.
Described Monday in PNAS, the bread was likely made from wild wheat and barley flour, with ground tubers of a plant called club-rush adding a bitter, nutty flavor, reports the BBC. Combined with water, the mixture is believed to have been baked in ashes or on a hot stone and consumed as part of a feast of gazelle, water birds, and hare, remains of which were also found. Tasting a bit like modern multigrain bread, the flatbread might have even formed part of a meat sandwich. Noting "food remains have long been ignored in archaeology," researcher Amaia Arranz-Otaegui believes similar "bread-like cereal products" perhaps existed 25,000 years ago. Given this "exceptional find," she now hopes to explore how the Natufians' bread production influenced the later agricultural revolution. (Grape wine dates back a long way, too.)