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In an Ancient Jar, World's Oldest Cheese Is Found

Remnants of the stuff remain after 3,200 years
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Aug 17, 2018 1:58 PM CDT
Some moldy cheese, but this is modern stuff.   (Getty/tanukiphoto)

(Newser) – For thousands of years beneath Egypt's desert sands, a solidified whitish substance sat in a broken jar. Scientists now say it's "probably the most ancient archaeological solid residue of cheese ever found," per the AP. Archaeologists came across the finding while cleaning the sands around a 19th-dynasty tomb at the vast Saqqara necropolis of the ancient city of Memphis. The tomb of Ptahmes, the mayor of ancient Memphis, was initially discovered in 1885 but had been swallowed by shifting sands until its rediscovery in 2010. The whitish solidified mass was found during the excavation work between 2013 and 2014, along with a canvas fabric that may have been used to cover the jar, a study published this week in Analytical Chemistry said. The 3,200-year-old cheese was found to be made from a mixture of cow milk and that of a sheep or goat.

Cheese-making has been depicted on wall murals of ancient Egyptian tombs from 2,000 BC. Also, a 2012 study published in the science journal Nature traces the earliest evidence of the industry to the 6th millennium BC in northern Europe, some 7,000 years ago. Older cheese residues discovered were typically attributed to natural fermented milk like yoghurt or kefir, but the discovery at Saqqara revealed no trace of proteins from natural milk fermentation, said study lead author Enrico Greco. "For this reason we can say that it is the oldest solid cheese ever found to date." There is little information on this particular cheese-making process, but "it was necessary to develop a specific technology and procedures that did not exist before," Greco said. "This is a very important point in the history of dairy food."

(Read more discoveries stories.)

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