Examinations of palaeofaeces found in protohistoric salt mines in the Hallstatt mountains, Austria, have uncovered evidence that Iron Age workers were drinking beer and eating blue cheese.
DNA analysis of human faeces left by miners 2,700 years ago – preserved by the cool, dry conditions and high salt concentrations in the mines – identified high levels of Penicillium roqueforti, which is used in the production of blue cheese, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, used in beer brewing. The revelation that Iron Age salt miners were deliberately fermenting food using microorganisms that are still in use today is a significant discovery.
Records of alcohol consumption date back much further, but this is the first molecular evidence of beer production in Iron Age Europe, and the oldest evidence of cheese ripening on the continent.
The research has been published in Current Biology.