July 17 (UPI) -- Archaeologists have recovered the charred remains of a piece of flatbread baked by hunter-gatherers 14,400 years ago, at least 4,000 years before the advent of agriculture.
Several samples of ancient bread were recovered from the hearth at an archaeological dig site in northeastern Jordan. When researchers analyzed the remains, they identified the wild ancestors of several domesticated grains, including barley, einkorn and oat.
"The remains are very similar to unleavened flatbreads identified at several Neolithic and Roman sites in Europe and Turkey," Amaia Arranz Otaegui, an archaeologist at the University of Copenhagen, said in a news release. "So we now know that bread-like products were produced long before the development of farming. The next step is to evaluate if the production and consumption of bread influenced the emergence of plant cultivation and domestication at all."
The ancient flatbread was baked by Natufians, hunter gatherers who lived in the Levant from 12,500 to 9,500 BC.
"Natufian hunter-gatherers are of particular interest to us because they lived through a transitional period when people became more sedentary and their diet began to change," said Copenhagen archaeologist Tobias Richter. "Flint sickle blades as well as ground stone tools found at Natufian sites in the Levant have long led archaeologists to suspect that people had begun to exploit plants in a different and perhaps more effective way."
Lara Gonzalez Carratero, an archaeologist and PhD candidate at University College London, used electronic microscopy to characterize the flatbread's composition. She and her research partners also established new criteria for identifying ancient cereal-based products like bread and porridge.
Researchers recounted their discovery and analysis of the ancient flatbread in the journal PNAS.
"Bread involves labor intensive processing which includes dehusking, grinding of cereals and kneading and baking," said archaeologist Dorian Fuller. "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. All of this relies on new methodological developments that allow us to identify the remains of bread from very small charred fragments using high magnification."