Poop remains from ancient humans show they loved beer and cheese
To find out what the ancient population of a UNESCO World Heritage site in Austria ate and drank to survive, researchers at the Institute for Mummy Studies, the University of Trento, and the Museum of Natural History of Vienna analyzed four paleofecal samples from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Baroque Age.
An article published in Current biology states that the molecular evidence examined in this analysis shows that blue cheese and beer were consumed during the Iron Age in Europe the same way they are consumed in sports bars across America with chicken wings and nachos on Sunday afternoons during football season.
The fecal samples examined by the team were kept in salt mines near the town of Hallstatt. As the miners worked all day, they ate and relieved themselves underground. Thanks to the pressure and salt in the mines, their fecal samples and the biomolecules inside remained intact.
“Paleofeces are naturally preserved ancient feces found in dry caves, desert areas, waterlogged environments and frozen habitats,” according to the document. “Specific environmental processes such as desiccation or freezing prevent their deterioration in mummies, old latrines, peat bogs and soils. Previous studies have shown that paleo-fecal material still contains plant macro- and microfossils, parasite eggs and even ancient biomolecules (DNA, proteins, metabolites). Ancient paleofeces have therefore recently been used as a source of information to study prehistoric nutritional patterns and health and to analyze isolated representatives or the overall composition of the gut microbiome of our ancestors.
The well-preserved poop contained proteins from penicillium roqueforti and saccharomyces cerevisiae; the first is used for the fermentation of cheese and the latter is used for the fermentation of bread and alcoholic beverages, including beer, mead, and wine.
“Genome-wide analysis indicates that both fungi were involved in the fermentation of food and provides the first molecular evidence for the consumption of blue cheese and beer in the Iron Age in Europe,” according to the document.
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