Researchers in Germany have identified samples of a mysterious yellowish substance found in tombs of ancient Chinese mummies to be 3,600-year-old cheese!
NBC News with the details of the findings, originally published in the Journal of Archaeological Sciences:
Archaeologists in China collected samples of yellowish material from 10 tombs and mummies at Small River Cemetery No. 5 in northwestern China’s Taklamakan Desert. The dry desert conditions contributed to the preservation of the mummies — as well as the textiles and gunky stuff that was packed around them.
Chemists in Germany analyzed the proteins in the clumps and determined that the yellowish material was a type of kefir cheese. The stuff was probably left with the mummies either as a tribute or as food for the afterlife.
The Taklamakan mummies are already notable because they appear to represent a mysterious non-Asian, Bronze Age culture that made its way to China thousands of years ago. It’s plausible that they brought their cheese-making ways with them.
Researchers also noted that while the samples are the oldest known specimens of cheese, they don’t point to the earliest evidence of cheese-making, as residues of milk fat were previously found on 7,500-year-old cheese-making equipment from Poland and possibly even older pottery from Turkey.
“Our work opens new perspectives in the analysis of ancient material,” Andrej Shevchenko with Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics said to Discovery News.
“But most importantly, it shows the technology behind ancient cheese-making.”
And we thank them for that technology every goddamn day.