Inside A 3,200-Year-Old Egyptian Tomb, World's Oldest Cheese Found

Grant Boone
August 18, 2018

"The material analyzed in this study is probably the most ancient archaeological solid residue of cheese ever found to date".

The very vintage cheese was buried alongside Ptahmes - Mayor of the ancient Egyptian capital of Memphis - whose resting place was rediscovered in 2010 after being lost under the desert sand. Researchers have just discovered the world's oldest cheese (also in Saqqara, Egypt), and it is nearly certainly cursed... or at least contaminated.

For nearly as long as people have kept cows, sheep or goats, they've made cheese out of their milk. I don't think they had pizza back in ancient Egypt, but apparently, the ancient Pharaohs did have cheese. One of those broken jars contained a solidified whitish mass inside along with a canvas fabric that could have covered the jar originally.

He added: "In conclusion, even if very ancient kefir or milk or dairy residues, coming from North African, Chinese and European excavations have been found and analysed, the present sample represent the oldest solid cheese so far discovered (3,200 BP)". After dissolving a sample and extracting the protein constituents, they realized they had found the rudimentary remains of a hunk of cheese, once wrapped in canvas fabric and preserved in the earthenware jar.

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But researchers believe the original piece of cheese weighed hundreds of grams, said Greco, who was a doctoral candidate at the University of Catania in Italy at the time.

It's typically the result of eating unpasteurized dairy products. If the team's preliminary analysis is confirmed, the sample would represent the earliest reported biomolecular evidence of brucellosis.

"The archaeologists suspected it was food, according to the conservation method and the position of the finding inside the tomb, but we discovered it was cheese after the first tests", Enrico Greco, the lead author of the paper and a research assistant at Peking University in Beijing, said in an email.

They also found signs of a bacterium that causes the potentially deadly disease brucellosis, which spreads from animals to people via unpasteurised dairy products.

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