Archaeologists investigating tombs in China have identified a mysterious yellowish substance on some ancient mummies as actually being samples of 3,600-year-old cheese.
According to Shanghaiist, the cheese was discovered tucked around mummies in tombs in the Taklamakan Desert in northwestern China. Researchers say the cheese was likely left with the mummies either as a tribute or as food for the dead to eat in the afterlife.
The Taklamakan cheese is the oldest excavated cheese in the world, though it is far from the oldest evidence of cheesemaking. Milk fat residue has been found on 7,500-year-old cheesemaking equipment uncovered in Poland. Milk residue that could potentially have come from cheese has also been detected inside 8,000-year-old pots uncovered in Turkey’s Anatolia region.
Chemists in Germany analyzed the waxy yellow material found around the mummies in the Taklamakan tombs and identified it as a type of kefir cheese. The discovery is exciting because the oldest known example of cheese can potentially reveal a great deal about ancient cheese-making practices.
"Our work opens new perspectives in the analysis of ancient material," said Andrej Shevchenko of Germany's Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, where the cheese was analyzed. "But most importantly, it shows the technology behind ancient cheese-making."