Scientists Discover World's Oldest Cheese

Aged cheddar
Aged cheddar

What are the most important things to take with you to the afterlife? Gold of course, and precious oils, and don't forget a couple of your favorite servants and maybe a beloved wife or two. But you would really be lost (and hungry) on the other side without cheese.

Archeologists have just uncovered the world's oldest cheese buried with mummies in China's desert sands. The chunks of yellowish organic material date back as early as 1615 B.C., which makes 15-year-old cheddar look positively silly in comparison.

Before this discovery, evidence of cheese-making had been found at sites in northern Europe dating back to the 6th millennium B.C., according to Counsel & Heal. Such evidence has also been found in Egypt and Mesopotamia dating to the 3rd millennium B.C. But this is the first time actual hunks of ancient cheese have been uncovered.

The cheese was placed on the Chinese mummies' necks and chests - within easy nibbling reach. It was buried with them so they could eat it in the afterlife, scientists say. 

The 3,600-year-old cheese was uncovered at the Xiaohe cemetery in the Taklamakan desert in northwestern China.

Recent DNA studies of remains found in this area show a mix of Asians and Europeans lived here. (One of the almost perfectly preserved mummies was wearing an absolutely fabulous feathered hat and fringed skirt.)

Scientists collected 13 samples of the mysterious yellowish organic material from 10 tombs and mummies and analyzed it in the lab. It became clear that it was neither butter or milk, but a cheese made by kefir fermentation.

The finding is described in more detail in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

What we want to know is: Did they find crackers too, or was this "yellowish organic material" more for heavenly nachos, in which case were there petrified tortilla chips near to hand?

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