Archaeologists Discover 8600-year-old Bread at Çatalhöyük May be the Oldest Bread in the World

March 13, 2024

8,600 year old leavened bread found in Catalhoyuk, Turkey. 8,600 year old leavened bread found in Catalhoyuk, Turkey. Credit: Science and Technology Research and Application Center (BITAM) of Necmettin Erbakan University

Archaeologists have discovered an 8,600-year-old loaf of bread inside a structure which resembles an oven in Catalhoyuk in south-central Turkey, a site which is renowned for being one of the earliest known regions of urban settlement in the world.

Located in the Cumra district of Konya, Catalhoyuk, home to roughly 8,000 people in the Neolithic period, an oven-like structure was uncovered in an area known as Space 66, characterized by adobe houses with interconnected roofs accessed from above.

Close to the damaged oven, a fist-sized item was found containing wheat, barley, and pea seeds, likely used for food.

 

An analysis carried out at the Science and Technology Research and Application Center (BITAM) at Necemettin Erbakan University in Konya, Turkey showed that the spongy residue identified as leavened bread dates back to around 6,600 BC.

Researchers presenting their findings. Researchers presenting their findings. Credit: Science and Technology Research and Application Center (BITAM) of Necmettin Erbakan University in Konya

Ali Umut Turkcan, head of the excavation team at Anadolu University, told Anadolu news agency that “archaeology” typically brings structures, monuments, and artifacts to mind. However, he highlighted the emergence of food archaeology within the discipline of modern archaeology, emphasizing Anatolia’s importance, especially that of Catalhoyuk.

He noted the discovery in 2021, showcasing the ability of Turkish excavations to identify organic residues through “meticulous documentation and detailed studies” and also highlighted Catalhoyuk’s Neolithic City’s significance. He said, “With meticulous documentation, we identified the small, round, spongy artifact found in the oven corner as bread. The thin clay covering preserved wood and bread, allowing all organic residues to endure. Radiocarbon tests at TUBITAK Marmara Research Center (MAM) suggested our sample could date back to around 6600 BC.”

The researcher also mentioned that the earliest examples of leavened bread were found in Egypt.

Is the Discovery in Turkey the World’s Oldest Bread?

In speaking to Anadolu, Turkan said:

“We can say that this finding in Çatalhöyük is the world’s oldest bread. Considering observations, analyses, and dating, we estimate this organic residue to be approximately 8,600 years old. It’s a miniature version of a loaf of bread. It hasn’t been baked in the oven but has fermented, preserving the starches. Such an example hasn’t existed until now. Çatalhöyük has always been the center of many firsts. Even in its early excavation years, the world’s first textiles were found here. Wooden artifacts were also discovered in Çatalhöyük. This adds to the wall paintings and drawings. In this regard, Konya and Turkey are very fortunate.”

The excavation site in Catalhoyuk. The excavation site in Catalhoyuk. Credit: Science and Technology Research and Application Center (BITAM) of Necmettin Erbakan University in Konya

He went on to highlight the importance of analysis studies, stating that the capability of the university’s laboratories to conduct all analyses is a “significant advantage.” Turkcan claimed this capability was established for the first time in Turkish laboratories.

Lecturer at Gaziantep University Salih Kavak was pleased to be involved with the analysis and evaluation of the “Catalhoyuk space 66 Neolithic period bread discovery,” saying it was the most exciting study in archaeobotany to date.

Kavak told Anadolu that he was informed of the discovery while studying plant residues in the lab. The researcher in the university in Turkey was reportedly surprised when he received it, wondering initially whether such a form could indeed be dough, bread, or an organic residue.

“Upon a visual morphological diagnosis and subsequent microscopic examination, the most exciting aspect was the presence of cereal residues,” he said. Kavak stressed the need for chemical and physical analyses of the discovery to confirm the bread hypothesis, and, once these had been done, concluded, “chemical analyses indicated signs of fermentation, suggesting the mixture had been prepared but not baked.”

He finalized his statements by saying that this “unprecedented discovery” in Turkey marks the oldest known bread-like specimen.