An ancient wooden container doesn’t make for a ‘thrilling’ historical discovery, until we bring out the context of such a find. Pertaining to such a scope, back in 2012, archaeologists were able to identify a ‘lunch box’ found at an altitude of 8,700 ft (2,650 m), near the summit of the Lötschenpass, in the Swiss Alps. Frozen for millennia (since circa 1500 BC), the wooden vessel has now revealed traces of grain inside that made up the food for the Bronze Age adventurer – who presumably lost his share while trekking through the Alps.
The recent analysis of this mysterious content inside the 3500-year old lunch box allowed the researchers to discern fragments of spelt, emmer and barley, along with faint residues of wheat and rye. In essence, the ingredients suggest that the adventurer packed himself a hearty meal of whole-grain porridge. The container in itself was made of a Swiss pine base and a willow rim, and both of these components were sewn together with European larch twigs.
Now this very scope of analysis and conclusive evidence of the actual food content marks a big step for bioarchaeology, since the entire project was fueled by advanced chemical techniques. This essentially translates to a scenario where instead of relying on the preservation of whole grains for the identification of a species, researchers can make use of preserved molecules to pinpoint the grain-type. As study author Jessica Hendy of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History said (in an interview with IBTimes UK) –
What we’re doing here is extracting biomolecules from residue and identified a marker for cereals. We’d like to apply this to less well-preserved remains. What’s quite exciting is that it can be applied to lots of different cases.
One of these cases relate to the historical scope and evolution of cereal farming in Bronze Age Europe. This ambit not only includes the methods of agriculture, but also entails how this evolving economy influenced the social and political structures of the period. As Hendy added –
We knew that cereals were around but don’t how important they were in the general economy. Now we’ve developed this, we can try to apply it more widely to understand how important cereals were for these early farmers.
The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Source: IBTimes / Images Credit: Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern