Pleistocene Bread

It is the 20th anniversary of my sourdough starter.  With my sourdough culture I make great bread, pancakes, and dumplings; and it can also serve as an excellent coating for fried fish and shrimp.  Wild yeast living in the atmosphere of Augusta, Georgia helps my bread rise without the need for store-bought yeast during summer months.  (The wild yeast needs some help when the house is cold.)  The discovery of bread must have been an happy and tasty accident.  Hunter-gatherers collected the seeds of wheat and other grains, but to make them more palatable, they removed the chaff, pounded the grains with rocks, and cooked them in water.  Crushed grains left over night or for a few days fermented.  This gruel could be consumed as a primitive beer or baked into bread.  Archaeologists debate over whether beer was a byproduct of bread-making or vice-versa.  Most think the effort to gather individual grass seeds was so tedious when many other plant and animal foods were available that only the desire for alcohol would’ve inspired primitive people to labor so intensely.  It should be noted this primitive beer did not taste like modern beer.  It was sour.  Bitter hops weren’t added to beer until the year 736 AD in Germany.

I started my sour dough culture in 1998 by exposing flour and water to air.

My sourdough bread fresh from the oven.

Archaeologists believe humans didn’t deliberately plant wheat until 10,000 years ago.  Yet, burnt bread crumbs, resembling toaster detritus, were recently discovered at a site dated to 14,400 years ago in Jordan.  The Natufians, hunter-gatherers roaming through the Middle East then, lived in sunken houses with stone floors and fireplaces, and apparently, they made bread.  Today, this region is a desert, but during the late Pleistocene it was an open woodland with many species of edible grasses growing between widely spaced trees.  The people often feasted on gazelle, wild sheep, and hare; and they ate bread too.  The bread was made with a mixture of primitive wheat, rye, millet, barley, possibly oat, and papyrus root.  The latter ingredient likely added necessary sugar to help fuel the yeast.  Modern bakers always add a little sugar or honey to their bread dough.  Archaeologists sifting though the site found 65,000 plant specimens including 95 species, but papyrus was by far the most common making up 50,000 of the specimens.  They also found mustard seed, peas, and of course the wheat, barley, rye, millet, and oats.  Mustard greens are edible, and the seeds were probably used as a condiment.  So some people were already eating bread during the Pleistocene.

Image result for Natufian house foundation

Artist’s representation of Natufian houses in Jordan 14,000 years ago.  The foundations are still visible.  They made bread in these houses.  The landscape was not as barren then as depicted in the illustration.


Otaegui, P.; et. al.

“Archaeobotanical Evidence Reveals the Origin of Bread 14,400 Years Ago in North-Eastern Jordan”

PNAS July 2018

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2 Responses to “Pleistocene Bread”

  1. ina puustinen-westerholm Says:

    Old time bread makin’s..looks good..but tastes sublime. Esp. out in the wilds..with coffee strong enough to eat a hole in an enamled coffee pot.

  2. SMcCann Says:

    So, I’m guessing you take a dim view of paleo diets that regard all grains as poisonous to humans?

    Personally, I’ve found limiting my intake of grains is a great way to control my weight (it’s all the carbs, I suspect). But I still nosh on a few corn chips at the local Mexican restaurant, and the occasional thick-slices of homemade bread are a heavenly delight.

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