6,100-Year-Old Pots Reveal Earliest Evidence of Cooking With Spices

6,100-Year-Old Pots Reveal Earliest Evidence of Cooking With Spices
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6,100-Year-Old Pots Reveal Earliest Evidence of Cooking With Spices

The discovery of an ancient crock pot dating back 6,100 years reveals the earliest evidence of food spicing, according to NBC News. Researchers from the University of York say the burnt food remains on the pot show traces of garlic mustard seeds along with meat and fish fats.

Image Credit: Hayley Saul / BioArCh at the University of York

The seeds came from eight pots collected from three Neolithic dwellings in Germany and Denmark. While spices like cumin, coriander and basil have been found in older sites, none have been conclusively linked to culinary purposes.

Image Credit: Sergey Kashkin

It seems that our ancestors liked their meat broth spicy. Modern garlic mustard has a strong peppery and mustard-like flavor. It also has little nutritional value.

Image Credit: David Q. Cavagnaro

The well-preserved food scraps also had fats, mostly from fish and some from meat. Lead researcher Dr. Hayley Saul says the meat is likely from roe deer or red deer.

Image Credit: David Kipling

Dr. Hayley Saul recreated the ancient dish by adding garlic mustard to cod and pork, according to Science Now, which are meats that inhabitants of northern Europe would have also eaten.

Image Credit: Philippe Desnerck

How were scientists able to tell that the "fossilized" remains were garlic mustard seeds? Using a technique called plant microfossil analysis, scientists looked at phytoliths under the microscope for patterns of silica. Each species lays down a distinct, signature pattern.

Image Credit: Greg Adams Photography

Before this discovery, the oldest evidence of food spicing was found in 4,500-year old cooking pots with remains of turmeric and ginger. The pots were linked to the Harappa culture in Northern India, according to a Smithsonian magazine blog post.

Image Credit: Partha Pal

Dr. Hayley Saul tells BBC News that this is the first evidence of food spicing in Europe. Around the world, older sites with spices have been discovered but not linked to cooking — including a cave in Israel with coriander dating back 23,000 years.

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Science Now reports that there is evidence of other flavorful foods like onions having been used in cooking during the same time period. However, garlic mustard seed is the first ingredient to lack nutritional value.

Image Credit: Tom Merton

Mesolithic cuisine (which precedes Neolithic) may be more sophisticated than we think. The Independent reports that cooks prepared meals for large family groups of up to fifteen people at a time.

Image Credit: Dorling Kindersley

Caraway seeds, blue fenugreek and horseradish are commonly believed to have been used by Mesolithic cooks, reports The Independent. However, use of these spices have not yet been proven.

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Dr. Hayley Saul told NBC News that the turn of the 5th millenium B.C. saw a lot of culinary creativity. Garlic mustard fell out of favor in later years, but experimentation with new spices may have continued.

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Want more ancient food finds? Read on for some recent discoveries about prehistoric palates.

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According to Deutsche Weine, the oldest bottle of wine still in a liquid form was discovered in Germany in 1867. The wine was buried in a sarcophagus likely in 325 A.D. and was amazingly preserved simply with a layer of olive oil to keep out the oxygen.

Image Credit: Deutscheweine.de

Thought pasta originated in Italy? You may want to think again! A 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles was discovered in China back in 2005. The bowl was uncovered at an archeological site, buried under 10 feet of sediment.

Image Credit: Nature/KBK Teo/E Minoux et al

A recently discovered 2,000-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Italy is said to still contain clay vessels filled with food.

Image Credit: Getty Images

It is believed that chocolate has been around since ancient times, but box of chocolates over 100 years old old was recently found in Scotland. They were made to honor the Coronation of King Edward VII.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Thanks to the beautiful paintings the Egyptians left behind, we know that the ancient people enjoyed figs.

Image Credit: Getty Images

The oldest known winery was recently found in Armenia. Archaeologists estimate the winery to be about 6,100 years ago.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Native American Indians enjoyed corn in their meals, but they also managed to use the corn other innovative ways. They have left behind woven corn husk baskets.

Image Credit: Getty Images


Prehistoric palates may be more refined than we think.

NBC News reports that the earliest conclusive evidence of humans cooking with spice has been discovered from 6,100-year old clay cooking pots found in Neolithic sites in Denmark and Germany. Burnt food remains on the pots revealed traces of garlic mustard seeds along with meat and fish fats.

While spices have been found in older sites, it is unclear whether they were used in food or for medicinal or decorative purposes. This new discovery shows well-preserved food scraps without any whole seeds, suggesting that the seeds were crushed to release flavor.

According to a Smithsonian magazine blog post, experts previously thought that cooking with plants during this time period was largely motivated by a need for calories, but garlic mustard seeds have little nutritional value.

The findings suggest culinary spices were in use more than 1,000 years earlier than previously thought, predating the discovery of tumeric and ginger in 4,500-year old cooking pots from northern India.

Lead researcher Dr. Hayley Saul tested the primitive recipe and likened it to today's popular mustard seeds. "It went down very well," she tells NBC News.

Check out the slideshow above to find out more about this surprising discovery and what other ancient spices have been found.

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