Scientists come across the world’s oldest known solid cheese specimen in ancient Egyptian tomb

cheerse_oldest cheeseCredit: Enrico Greco

Like many ancient Egyptian tombs, the tomb of Ptahmes (a mayor of Memphis), dating from 13th century BC, was first excavated in the late 19th century. However, unlike many other crypts, it was lost to the drifting sands and then rediscovered in 2010. The fortuitous nature of the scope became even more significant with archaeologists finding remnants of broken jars at the site. One of these jars, covered with a fabric cloth, intrigued the researchers by virtue of its content comprising a whitish substance.

Credit: University of Catania/SWNS

Quite intriguingly, the analysis of the 3,300-year old whitish residue revealed what is probably the oldest known evidence of solid cheese. According to the American Chemical Society, who published their study in the journal Analytical Chemistry

After dissolving the sample, the researchers purified its protein constituents and analyzed them with liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. The peptides detected by these techniques show the sample was a dairy product made from cow milk and sheep or goat milk. The characteristics of the canvas fabric, which indicate it was suitable for containing a solid rather than a liquid, and the absence of other specific markers, support the conclusion that the dairy product was a solid cheese. Other peptides in the food sample suggest it was contaminated with Brucella melitensis, a bacterium that causes brucellosis.

Pertaining to the last part of the statement, brucellosis is a “potentially disease that is often passed from animals to people, typically from eating unpasteurized dairy products.” To that end, the researchers made it clear that (at least) their preliminary assessment suggests how the oldest cheese might also represent the earliest known biomolecular evidence of the disease.

Source: American Chemical Society