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Africa’s inventions: bread (11,600 BC)

Written by Oadeye

Bread is one of the most common and widely consumed food across all parts of the globe. It comes in various forms, shapes, sizes and even composition. From ancient times up till present-day, it has continued to be a staple food source for many people.

The reason bread is very popular apart from its nutritional value and portability might have to do with its age; bread has been around for thousands of years. Bread has been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs. In the Egyptian galleries section of the British Museum, you can actually see bread that was made about 5,000 years ago being displayed.

Bread is mentioned many times in the Bible.

What many people do not know however is that Africans had a hand in its creation about no later than 11,600 years ago.

ANCIENT NATUFIAN CULTURE

Archaeologists discovered charred bread crumbs of a flatbread at a Natufian hunter-gatherer site in the Black Desert of northeast Jordan, further investigation of the crumbs revealed that they were from between 11,600 – 14,600 years old.

But wait a minute, Jordan is not Africa you might say, yes but the ancient Natufian culture was North African.

Coloured Region Of The Globe Indicates Regions of The Levant

The Natufian culture originated from the mingling of the Kebaran culture that was indigenous to the Levant and the Mushabian culture which was North African.[1][2]

The Levant is a term that refers to a large area in the eastern Mediterranean; it encompasses some areas in western Asia and Northeast Africa.

The Mushabian, on the other hand, originated from a series of Iberomaurusian settlements in North Africa. This North African bladelet lithic industries are found near the coasts of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and a small area in Libya.

The migration of the Iberomaurusians in North Africa to the Near East birthed the Natufian culture.

The Suez might have been the bridge that connected both people. Today, it is a seaport city in northeastern Egypt; at the time, it would have been a land bridge to the Middle East (or Near East as it is called in archaeological circles).

Likewise, the Nile river valley that frequently connected people from Sub Saharan Africa to the Near East might have also been a route through which the North Africans migrated; it runs from East Africa to the Mediterranean Sea and served as a bidirectional corridor in the Sahara desert.

The Nile which runs through Egypt starts from two rivers: the Blue Nile in Uganda; and the White Nile in Ethiopia; which both merge into the source of the Egyptian Nile in Khartoum, Sudan.

The Natufian culture is an Epipaleolithic culture that existed from around 13,050 to 7,550 BC[3] in the Levant.

There are very close similarities between the Natufian culture and the cultures found in coastal North Africa.

Graeme Barker a renowned archaeologist and a Senior Fellow of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research noted that there are “similarities in the respective archaeological records of the Natufian culture of the Levant and of contemporary foragers in coastal North Africa across the late Pleistocene and early Holocene boundary.”

Another respected archaeologist Ofer Bar-Yosef has argued that there are signs of influences coming from North Africa to the Levant[4].

Authors such as Christopher Ehret have also linked the Natufian culture to North Africa using evidence available, to develop scenarios of intensive usage of plants having built up first in North Africa, as a precursor to the development of true farming in a part of the Levant[5].

A study by a team of scientists and archaeologists from the Weizman Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel and the University of Copenhagen discredited a long-held theory that the Natufian culture might have originated from the Mount Carmel and the Galilee regions, but instead proposed that the origin of the Natufian culture was diverse[6]. Natufian culture is generally believed to be the source of the European Neolithic and as such has been the subject of various archaeological investigations.

The Natufians were mainly hunters; they supplemented their food source by gathering wild grains; it was likely they did not cultivate the grains.

It was the Natufians that founded the city of Jericho, adjudged to be the oldest city in the world.

There is a wide belief that they might have been the ancestors of the first Neolithic settlement in that region which might have been the earliest in human existence. Apart from bread, there is evidence that they indulged in the earliest form of beer making, which they used for ritual feasting[7]

Replication of a Neolithic kitchen

Discovery Of The Earliest Bread

A team of Scientists and archaeologists from the University of Copenhagen and the Weizman Institute of Science, Rehovot discovered the earliest bread ever produced by humans.

The team led by Dr Tobias Richter during excavations of a well preserved Natufian site located in the black desert of Jordan, 150 Km northeast of Amman known as Shubayqa 1, discovered amongst other things 642 tiny lumps, a few millimetres in size, of charred bread crumbs dating from between 14,600 to 11,600 years. “They are charred breadcrumbs, sort of what you might find at the bottom of your toaster at home, the sort of stuff that falls off when you put it on high power,” said Dr Richter.

This has been confirmed to be the earliest form of bread ever discovered.

Other things discovered at the site were charred plant materials within hearths, small round tubers of a wetland plant called club-rush, some traces of plants and legumes of the cabbage family, some ground wheat and barley and other wild cereals.

Radiocarbon dating method was used on the charred plant materials which were found within the fireplaces and the result revealed that the hearths were used just a little over 14,000 years ago.

Natufian Mortars and Grinding Stones

The bread was most likely made from wild wheat, wild barley, and plant roots because analyses of the tiny charred crumbs revealed they were bread-like and some of the crumbs contain tissues from cereal plants likely to be barley, einkorn wheat or oats. Other crumbs contain ingredients from other plants. Further analyses of the crumbs led the team to believe that the flour used to make the bread might have been sieved and that the lack of oven suggested that the bread was most likely baked in the ashes of the hearth or with a hot stone.

The team also said that the crumbs were most likely from unleavened flatbread.

The team did not believe that bread was a staple food for the Natufians considering that it would have been labour intensive to make; the gathering and processing of the grains would not have been an easy task, rather it might have been produced as a source of food in preparation for an onward journey given that the Natufians were hunter-gatherers and were highly mobile. Or the bread might have been prepared as part of a feast or a ritual or ceremonial event.

Neolithic Styled Oven

There is strong evidence that groat meals and fine flour were produced from wild barley by the Natufians and processed into some kind of pita bread.

The Natufians probably used sickles that were made of flint blades set in bone handles to harvest grains then used stone mortars and pestles to grind them.

Today bread is readily available everywhere, with different flavours and attractive packaging. So the next time you are about to take a bite of that delicious bread, remember that it was the ingenuity of the early Africans that brought about the creation of this wonderful food we call bread.

SOURCES

  • Delson, Eric; Tattersall, Ian; Couvering, John Van; Brooks, Alison S. (2004-11-23). Encyclopedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory: Second Edition. Routledge. p. 97. ISBN 9781135582289
  • Levy, Thomas (1995-01-01). Arch Of Society. A&C Black. p. 161. ISBN 9780718513887.
  • Grosman, Leore; Munro, Natalie; Belfer-Cohen, Anna (2008-12-01). “A 12,000-year-old Shaman Burial from the Southern Levant (Israel)”. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 105 (46): 17665–9. doi:10.1073/pnas.0806030105. PMC 2584673. PMID 18981412
  • Bar-Yosef O (1987) Pleistocene connections between Africa and SouthWest Asia: an archaeological perspective. The African Archaeological Review; Chapter 5, pg 29-38
  • Ehret (2002) The Civilizations of Africa: A History to 1800. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia
  • Daniel K. Eisenbud, Jerusalem Post, December 7, 2017
  • ‘World’s oldest brewery’ found in a cave in Israel, say researchers.” British Broadcasting Corporation. 15 September 2018. Retrieved 15 September 2018.

FOOTNOTE

  1. Delson, Eric; Tattersall, Ian. 2004.
  2. Levy, Thomas. 1995
  3. Grosman, Leore; Munro, Natalie; Belfer-Cohen, Anna. 2008
  4. Bar-Yosef O. 1987
  5. Ehret. 2002
  6. Daniel K. Eisenbud. 2002
  7. ‘World’s oldest brewery’ found in a cave in Israel, say researchers.” British Broadcasting Corporation. 15 September 2018.

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Oadeye

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