A study of poo from 2,700 years ago has revealed how much people liked beer and blue cheese.

As per a new study published in Current Biology, scientists analysed poo samples from the era, found at the heart of the Hallstatt mine in the Austrian Alps and found that it contained contained two fungi, Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae which are used in fermentation.

Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at the Eurac Research Institute in Bolzano, Italy, who was the lead author of the report, said he was surprised to learn salt miners more than two millennia ago were advanced enough to “use fermentation intentionally.”

“This is very sophisticated in my opinion,” Maixner said. “This is something I did not expect at that time.”

Indeed, the finding was the earliest evidence to date of cheese ripening in Europe, according to researchers. Meanwhile, the salt miners’ faeces contained the first molecular evidence of beer consumption on the continent at that time.

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“The Hallstatt miners seem to have intentionally applied food fermentation technologies with microorganisms which are still nowadays used in the food industry,” Maixner said.

“It is becoming increasingly clear that not only were prehistoric culinary practices sophisticated, but also that complex processed foodstuffs as well as the technique of fermentation have held a prominent role in our early food history,” said Kerstin Kowarik, of the Museum of Natural History Vienna, said.

The researchers also studied the miners’ diet, which consisted mainly of cereals, some fruit, and beans and meats as the source of protein.

“The diet was exactly what these miners needed, in my opinion,” Maixner said. “It’s clearly balanced and you have all major components you need.”

And if you are wondering how the faeces remained intact for so long? Thank the constant temperature of around 8C and the high concentration of salt at the mine.


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