3,800-year-old cheese found on Chinese mummies

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Talk about vintage! Archeologists in China have discovered the remains of ancient cheese tucked into mummies dating back around 3,800 years.

click image to zoomChinese mummy, cheeseY.Liu and Y.Yang via livescience.comA mummy found with hunks of ancient cheese, shown above with white arrows. According to CBS News, the yellow chunks of cheese were discovered tucked around the necks and chests of mummies buried in China’s Taklamakan Desert. Archeologists presume the simply dairy treats were buried as a tasty snack for the buried to enjoy in the afterlife.

"Despite being extraordinary simple, it possessed the necessary qualities for supporting the economic expansion of ruminant animal herding into Eastern Eurasia," the authors write in the paper, which was published online Feb. 18 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Read more here.

Previous data have pointed to evidence of cheese-making dating back at least 7,000 years, and while residue found in ancient clay pots share a chemical signature with cow’s milk, the Chinese discovery is the oldest known specimen of actual cheese.   

"We not only identified the product as the earliest known cheese, but we also have direct … evidence of ancient technology," study author Andrej Shevchenko, an analytical chemist at Germany's Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, told USA Today.

The discovery was initially made between 2002 and 2004. Using chemical analysis, researchers were able to identify the 0.4 inch to 0.8 inch clumps of yellow substances as a simple kefir cheese

"The evidence of kefir dairy that occurred already at the Early Bronze Age helps [us] to understand why milking was spreading over Eastern Eurasia despite the lactose intolerance of the local population," the authors write in the paper.

The method was "easy, cheap … It's a technology for the common people," Shevchenko adds.



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