Washington, United States | Human love for cheese and beer goes back a long way. Workers at a salt mine in Austria were already producing blue and beer in a sophisticated way about 2,700 years ago, according to a new study …
The scientists made the discovery by analyzing human excrement patterns found in the heart of the Holstat mine in the Austrian Alps. Their results were published in the journal Current Biology on Wednesday.
Miners “are so advanced that they can deliberately use fermentation, which amazes me a lot,” Frank Miksner, a microbiologist at the Eurasian Research Institute in Bolzano, Italy, and lead author of the report, told AFP. “It’s not something I already imagined.”
This is the oldest proof that cheese is ripe in Europe. If alcohol consumption is strictly documented elsewhere by ancient writings or archaeological evidence, this is the first molecular evidence of beer consumption on the continent at this time.
From the Natural History Museum in Vienna “….
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Holstad is “a very special place, nowhere in the middle” that has been used for salt production for 3,000 years, says Frank Miksner. “All the inhabitants worked and lived in the mine.”
In order not to go out on a working day, they ate there … and even did their business there.
These discharges are well preserved there, due to the high salt concentration and the constant temperature around 8 ° C.
Researchers have analyzed four models: one from the Bronze Age, two from the Iron Age, and the other from the 18th century.
One of them, about 2,700 years ago, was found to contain two fungi, Penicillium rockforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Both are well known today for their use in food processing processes.
“Initially, they appear in nature. And then humans use these natural species to grow them,” said Frank Miksner.
“We found a lot of DNA from these fungi, which is amazing. We were able to recreate their gene,” he said.
These two fungi have been compared to dozens of modern genes.
Thanks to their analysis, the researchers were able to confirm that it was beer and blue as a result of the fermentation process deliberately and repeatedly and not the usual “fluke”.
Since these mushrooms are only found in the excretion sample, scientists would like to verify using other specimens, if this consumption is really a general trend, or, for example, if concentrated at specific times.
Researchers have also studied the diet of these humans. It is mainly made with whole grains (wheat, barley, spelling …).
They also ate some fruit, and got their protein from beans or meat.
Frank Mixner says their diet is “balanced” and “what these miners need” to replenish their energy.
The main difference with today’s menus? The degree of food processing, at that time was very low. For example, the miners used whole seeds, suggesting the use of a kind of porridge – with the exception of the 18th century pattern where grains appeared in the ground, suggesting the use of bread or cookies.
One of the other conclusions of the study relates to the composition of the microbiota of these humans, i.e. all the bacteria present in their body.
For the four models studied, it is very similar to the modern non-Western population that has a very traditional way of life.
This suggests a “recent change” in microbiota in industrialized humans, “perhaps due to modern lifestyles and diet or medical advances,” the study said.
However, “microbiota is often associated with a variety of diseases,” Frank Miksner emphasized. According to him, determining exactly when this “radical change” took place will help to understand what happened.