As a rule, human fecal matter does not last for thousands of years, Except in some specific places such as dry caves, desert areas, waterlogged environments and frozen habitats.
But upon studying the ancient poop – Paleophes, found in the prehistoric salt mines of western Austria’s Hallstatt-Dachstein UNESCO World Heritage Area, the team uncovered some “surprising” evidence: two fungi used in the production of blue dye. The appearance of the species in historical specimens of cheese and beer. The high salt concentration and constant annual temperature of about 8 °C inside the mine preserved the samples well, and the researchers say their findings show the first molecular evidence for the consumption of blue cheese and beer in Iron Age Europe.
“We were able to show that fermented foods have had an important role in human history over a long period of time,” study author Kerstin Kovari, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, told CNN via email.
“The cooking methods were sophisticated, relying on complex food processing techniques such as fermentation and probably aimed not only at food preservation, but also at achieving a distinctive flavor,” he said.
“Through our study we have also added to the long history of cheese and dairy products, by demonstrating that blue cheese was already produced in Iron Age Europe about 2,700 years ago,” she said.
The researchers used in-depth analysis to detect the microbes, DNA and proteins that were present in those poop samples, and reconstruct the diets of people who once lived in the area.
The bran was one of the most prevalent plant fragments found in the specimens, as well as in the case of various cereal plants. This highly fibrous, carbohydrate-rich diet was supplemented with protein from broad beans and fruits, nuts, or animal food products, the researchers said.
When the researchers expanded their microbial survey to include fungi, they found their biggest surprise: an abundance of Penicillium rocforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae DNA — fungi found in cheese, and beer and bread, respectively — for their iron. In one of the samples of the era .
“Iron Age salt miners in the Hallstatt Salt Mountains deliberately applied food fermentation technologies with microorganisms that are still used today in the food industry 2,700 years ago,” Kovarik said.
Author Frank Maxner, microbiologist and coordinator of the Yurac Institute for Mummy Studies in Bolzano, Italy, told CNN that the genomes of the fungi found in the samples “have already gone through a selection process that makes them suitable for food fermentation.” ”
“Therefore,” he said, “we believe that this fungus was part of an early fermentation culture.”
Experts say that ancient miners, who had a plant-heavy diet, had similar gut microbiome structures to modern non-Westerners, who ate mostly fresh fruits, vegetables and unprocessed foods.
In their findings, published Wednesday in the journal Cell Press, the team says their research suggests a more recent change in the Western gut microbiome as eating habits and lifestyles have changed.