Someone burned the toast, apparently, and that's part of the reason that researchers still found bits of it in 14,400 year-old ovens in Shubayqa 1, a hunter-gatherer archaeological site in northeastern Jordan. A study that made headlines on July 16, 2018 described the work led by Amaia Arranz-Otaegu from the University of Copenhagen. The report shows that our ancestors baked bread with ancient wheat (einkorn) thousands of years before the start of agriculture.
Scientists already knew that people cultivated existing stands of wheat and many other plants, that they harvested and stored grains, and that they ground grains and made them into flat cakes that they cooked well before agriculture started. Archaeologists have discovered grinding tools with grain fragments in Mozambique from 105,000 years ago; from Australia about 50,000 years ago; and from several places in Europe about 33,000 years ago. The new discovery is the first, however, to find the burnt bread in the hearth.
Grinding and baking foods provides substantially more energy than raw whole foods. That meant that even Paleolithic hunters and gatherers had a good reason to go through the laborious process of harvesting grains and tubers, and preparing the bread. Scanning electron microscopes allowed researchers to analyze 24 fragments of the 600 pieces of bread. The team identified the plants in the bread: einkorn, wild barley, oats, and tubers from sedges. Then they baked experimental breads with the same ingredients, to prove that it could be done. The article doesn't say how the bread tasted, but it did give them a way to double-check their findings.
A modern version of Australian Aboriginal seed bread, from Gurandgi Munjie group.
Dorian Fuller, a co-author of the study, said that an earlier form of wheat called einkorn had gluten. “‘[F]lour should also ideally include some protein, such as gluten, that occurs in wheat to hold the batter together and provide elasticity.’” Researchers noted that the grains were more finely-ground than they had expected, which would make a tastier bread and allow it to have a better shape.
Australian Aboriginal grindstone, about 30,000 years old.
Another co-author, Tobias Richter, emphasized the extensive reliance on bread today. “‘I think it’s quite important to recognize that bread is such a hugely important staple in the world today.’” The discovery means that humans have been relying on bread for a long time.
Flat bread -- naan (TWC, 5-19-2012)
This bread was baked near the end of the Upper Paleolithic era, which started about 50,000 years ago and ended with the beginning of agriculture around 10,000 years ago. It suggests that the Paleo diet may need some revision. How long now, until a recipe comes out for the "real" Paleo bread, and people can return to enjoying the food of their ancestors?
The Shubayqa 1 site, with oven where researchers discovered ancient bread.