Chinese archaeologists have discovered the oldest processed wheaten food remains in the country, indicating the people ate bread-like food 2,600 to 2,900 years ago.
"Our team has used infrared scans to screen the food remains, which were discovered in pottery wares unearthed from Yanghai Cemetery," Yang Yimin, associate professor of the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said today. The oldest processed wheaten food remains were unearthed in north China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
"The ingredients were mainly flour made from barley and millet. It was also mixed with lactobacillus and yeast," he was quoted as saying to state-run Xinhua news agency. The food was made in a period between China's Western Zhou Dynasty (1046-771 BC) and Spring and Autumn Period (722-476 BC), he said.
Yang said the discovery showed wheat became an important staple food in Xinjiang for that period. Food decomposes quickly and is rarely found at archaeological sites. However, the remains were preserved at Yanghai Cemetery because of the extremely arid climate in the Gobi Desert, south of Huoyan (Flaming) Mountain in Xinjiang's Turpan Basin, which is known for its extreme heat in day time.
There are more than 500 ancient tombs found in the cemetery, which covers an area of 54,000 square meters. Archaeologists often find rare relics such as well-preserved trousers with a stitched crotch, believed to be worn by early nomadic minority people living in Xinjiang. Yang said the most findings would not only lead to better ancient food processing methods, but also better information on the role Xinjiang played in influencing China's cuisine and diet.
Among the major grains for ancient China, only Chinese millet originated from the central Yellow River region, while rice was domesticated in southern China regions. Wheat and soybean, which were generally believed to have been originated from Central Asia, were cultivated in China's northwest region. More and more archaeological research shows wheat cultivation in China first started in Xinjiang and then spread to Qinghai and Gansu provinces, which further suggests Xinjiang's important role in linking China with the West.