The human being’s passion for cheese and beer comes from far away. Workers at a salt mine in Austria have been producing blue cheese and beer in a sophisticated way for 2.00 years, according to a study published on Wednesday (13).
Scientists made this discovery by analyzing samples of human excrement found in the heart of the Hallstatt mine in the Austrian Alps. The study was published in Wednesday’s issue of the journal Current Biology.
Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at the Eurac Research Institute in Bolzano (Italy) and lead author of the study, said he was surprised to learn that salt miners more than two millennia ago were sufficiently advanced to “intentionally use fermentation.”
“This is very sophisticated in my opinion,” Maixner told AFP. “It’s something I didn’t expect for that time.”
The discovery is the first evidence so far of cheese maturation in Europe, according to the researchers.
And although alcohol consumption is well documented in ancient writings and archaeological evidence, the salt miners’ feces contain the first molecular evidence of beer consumption on the continent at that time.
“It is increasingly clear that not only were prehistoric culinary practices sophisticated, but that complex processed foods, as well as the technique of fermentation, played a prominent role in our early food history,” said Kerstin Kowarik of the Museum of Natural History of Vienna.
The city of Hallstatt, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, has been dedicated to the production of salt for over 3,000 years, according to Maixner.
The community “is a very particular place, it’s located in the Alps, in the middle of nowhere,” he added. “The entire community worked and lived from this mine”.
The miners spent all day there, working, eating and doing their necessities right there, in the mine.
Thanks to the constant temperature of around 8°C and the mine’s high salt concentration, the miners’ feces remained particularly well preserved.
Scientists analyzed four samples: one dating from the Bronze Age, two from the Iron Age and one from the 18th century.
One of them, 2,700 years old, contained two fungi: Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Both are known today for their use in food preparation.
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