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2 December 2010
Chinese noodle dinner found after 2,500 Years

Noodles, cakes, porridge, and meat bones dating to around 2,500 years ago were recently unearthed at a Chinese cemetery. As the cakes were cooked in an oven-like hearth, this may indicate that individuals in northern China were skillful bakers who likely learned baking much earlier than previously thought.
     "With the use of fire and grindstones, large amounts of cereals were consumed and transformed into staple foods," lead author Yiwen Gong and his team said. Gongho also added that the human remains they unearthed at the site looked more European than Asian.  The individuals may have been living in a semi agricultural, pastoral artists' community, since a pottery workshop was found nearby, and each person was buried with pottery. The archaeologists also found bows, arrows, saddles, leather chest-protectors, boots, woodenwares, knives, an iron aw, a leather scabbard, and a sweater in the graves.
     The scientists focused this particular study on the excavated food, that included noodles mounded in an earthenware bowl, sheep's heads (which may have held symbolic meaning), another earthenware bowl full of porridge, and elliptical-shaped cakes as well as round baked goods that resembled modern Chinese moon cakes. Chemical analysis of the starches revealed that both the noodles and cakes were made of common millet.
     After a series of tests, the scientists believe the millet grains in one bowl were once boiled into porridge, the noodles were boiled, and the cakes were baked. These food discoveries may indicate baking must have been a widespread cooking practice in northwest China 2,500 years ago.
     The discoveries add to the growing body of evidence that millet was the grain of choice for this part of China. Houyuan Lu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Geology and Physics, along with other researchers, unearthed millet-made noodles dating to 4,000 years ago at the Laija archaeological site, also in northwest China. In that case, "the noodles were thin, delicate, more than 19.7 inches in length and yellow in color," according to Lu and his colleagues.
     Gong and his team point out that millet was domesticated about 10,000 years ago in northwest China and was probably a food staple because of its drought resistance and ability to grow in poor soils.

Edited from Discovery News (19 November 2010)

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