Story at a glance

  • Researchers analyzed ancient fecal samples, or paleofeces, discovered in the salt mines of the Hallstatt-Dachstein area.
  • In a sample dating back roughly 2,700 years, researchers discovered penicillium roqueforti and saccharomyces cerevisiae DNA, which are two fungal species used in the production of blue cheese and beer.
  • While the process of making cheese goes back much further than the Iron Age, the research suggests people were carrying out much more complex cheese ripening processes.

A new study suggests people living in Europe some 2,700 years ago were more sophisticated in their diet than initially thought and even dined on beer and blue cheese. 

Researchers behind the study published in the journal Current Biology analyzed ancient fecal samples, or paleofeces, discovered in the salt mines of the Hallstatt-Dachstein area, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, in what is now modern-day Austria. 

While human feces typically doesn’t last for thousands of years, the cool temperature and high concentration of salt at the mine preserved the samples extraordinarily well. 

Researchers analyzed four samples, including one from the Bronze Age, one from the Iron Age and another from the 18th Century. 


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In a sample dating back roughly 2,700 years, researchers discovered penicillium roqueforti and saccharomyces cerevisiae DNA, which are two fungal species used in the production of blue cheese and beer.

“Genome-wide analysis indicates that both fungi were involved in food fermentation and provide the first molecular evidence for blue cheese and beer consumption during Iron Age Europe,” Frank Maixner, researcher with the Eurac Research Institute for Mummy Studies in Italy, said in a statement

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

While the process of making cheese goes back much further than the Iron Age, the research suggests people were carrying out much more complex cheese ripening processes. 

“To our knowledge, this represents the earliest known evidence for directed cheese ripening and affinage in Europe, adding a crucial aspect to an emerging picture of highly sophisticated culinary traditions in European protohistory,” researchers wrote. 


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Published on Oct 14, 2021