2,700-year-old poop shows ancient Europeans enjoyed beer and blue cheese

An analysis of ancient human excrement from the Hallstatt salt mines in Austria revealed a diet of beans, millet and barley.

It has emerged that Europeans’ love for cheese and beer goes as far back as three millennia ago. A new research studying ancient poop has shown that workers in a salt mine in Austria were already employing sophisticated ways of producing blue cheese and beer around 2,700 years ago.

Shocking Sophistication

This discovery was made after a team of scientists analysed samples of human excrement found in the heart of the Hallstatt mine in the Austrian Alps. Their findings were published Wednesday in the journal Current Biology.

Frank Maixner, a microbiologist at the Eurac Research Institute in Bolzano, Italy, and lead author of the report, said it was surprising to learn salt miners from almost 3,000 years ago were advanced enough to 'use fermentation intentionally'.

This is very sophisticated in my opinion. This is something I did not expect at that time.

According to researchers, this discovery was the earliest evidence to date of cheese ripening in Europe.

The salt miners used sophisticated ways of producing blue cheese around 2,700 years ago. Photo by Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

Cheesy History

Although alcohol consumption is well documented in older archaeological evidence, the faecal matter of the salt miners contained the first molecular evidence of beer consumption on the continent at that time.

Study author Kerstin Kowarik, an archaeologist at Vienna's Natural History Museum, said:

We were able to show that fermented foods have an important role in human history over a long time. Culinary practices were sophisticated, relying on complex food processing techniques such as fermentation and most probably aiming not only at food preservation, but also at achieving a specific taste.

She added that their findings make for relevant contribution to the existing history of dairy products on the continent.

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 nearly 2,700 years ago.

The town of Hallstatt, has been used for salt production for more than 3,000 years, with miners spending their entire days there, working, eating and going to the bathroom in the mine.

Due to the constant temperature of around 8C and the high concentration of salt at the mine, the miners’ faeces were preserved particularly well.

Archaeological dig results in incredible 3,000 year old discovery Archaeological dig results in incredible 3,000 year old discovery