World's oldest cheese found in Egyptian tomb

3,000yo Egyptian cheese infected with deadly disease unearthed at ancient burial site

However, it took over a century before researchers and archaeologists were able to return and when a group of archaeologists did between 2013 and 2014, they also discovered several broken jars, one of which contained a odd solid, powdery, and whitish mass as well as a canvass cloth that may have once covered the jar.

The tomb was the final resting place of a high-rank Egyptian official, Ptahmes, who in the 13th century BC was the former mayor of the ancient city of Memphis.

"There are several examples in mural paintings with barter scenes where cheese was represented and certainly it was used in the Egyptian medicine during the Ptolemaic period", he said. The 3,200-year-old cheese was found to be made from a mixture of cow milk and that of a sheep or goat.

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"The sample in this study was discovered during the excavation procedures of Cairo University in the season 2013-2014".

"The sample was wrapped with a canvas into a broken jar", said lead author Enrico Greco, from Italy's University of Catania. I don't think they had pizza back in ancient Egypt, but apparently, the ancient Pharaohs did have cheese. His burial site was first unearthed in 1885, but was lost to shifting sands until its rediscovery in 2010. In his tomb scientists found the remains of a hard cheese that had been maturing for 3,300 years.

"The archaeologists suspected it was a kind of food left for the owner of the tomb and they chose to ask for chemical analyses", said lead author Enrico Greco, a leader in the new field of ancient food discoveries known as 'archaeofood'.

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Older cheese residues discovered were typically attributed to natural fermented milk like yoghurt or kefir, but the discovery at Saqqara revealed no trace of proteins from natural milk fermentation, Greco said.

Among the study's significant findings were the signs of bacteria potentially causing the deadly disease brucellosis, caught through the consumption of unpasteurized dairy products. The texture of this fabric suggested that the food had been solid when it was interred alongside Ptahmes a few millennia ago - in other words, the find probably wasn't a jar of ancient spoiled milk. If confirmed, it would also be the earliest evidence of the disease.

Greco's cheese was dated back to Egypt's 19th dynasty, thousands of years before the scientific basis of pasteurization, food safety and even germ theory would be conceived.

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