White stuff from tomb is world's oldest cheese

Faith Castro
August 18, 2018

Jar and canvas discovered inside the tomb of Ptahmes, Mayor of Memphis during the XIX dynasty.

The tomb, which belonged to Ptahmes, once the mayor of Memphis, Egypt, was first discovered in 1885 by treasure hunters, who stole objects inside. If confirmed, it would also be the earliest evidence of the disease. Archaeologists working on the ancient tomb of Ptahmes, dated to the 13th century BC, recently came face to face with a sample of Egyptian cheese, which they claim could be the oldest sample of solid cheese ever found.

One jar contained a solidified whitish mass, as well as canvas fabric that might have covered the jar or been used to preserve its contents.

For thousands of years beneath Egypt's desert sands a solidified whitish substance sat in a broken jar.

"The archaeologists suspected it was a kind of food left for the owner of the tomb and they made a decision to ask for chemical analyses", said lead author Enrico Greco, a leader in the new field of ancient food discoveries known as 'archaeofood'.

"The archaeologists suspected it was a kind of food left for the owner of the tomb and they chose to ask for chemical analyses", Dr. Greco of Sicily's University of Catania told Australian media. Kindstedt studies the chemistry and history of cheese. "It would not last long, it would spoil very quickly".

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The peptides detected by these techniques showed the sample was a dairy product made from cow milk and sheep or goat milk.

"This is a very important find in the archaeological world", Greco said. "The constituting material was a dairy product obtained by mixing sheep or goat and cow milk".

The analysis also suggested the cheese was contaminated with a bacterium that causes brucellosis, a potentially deadly disease that spreads from animals to people. The ancient Egyptians were no exception, making solid cheese to supplement their already hearty diet of beer, bread, onions and lentils.

"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", said the lead author of the paper and research assistant at Peking University in Beijing, Enrico Greco.

The type of cheese was not identified in the study, but such a discovery would have been too gouda to be true.

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