Cheese and beer. The true paleo diet
October 13, 2021 11:36 AM   Subscribe

Paleofeces reveal diet of ancient salt miners (links to article on cell.com) Paleofeces material displays an archaeological information source that provides insights into the diet and gut microbiome composition of ancestors. Here, we had access to four paleofeces samples from the Hallstatt salt mines dating from the Bronze Age to the Baroque period. The constant low annual temperature and high salt concentrations inside the mine preserved both plant macro-remains and biomolecules (DNA and protein) in the paleofeces.

Highlights
•Gut microbiome and diet of European salt miners determined using paleofeces
•Until the Baroque, the microbiome resembled that of modern non-Westernized people
•Food-fermenting fungi in Iron Age feces indicates blue cheese and beer consumption

Summary
We subjected human paleofeces dating from the Bronze Age to the Baroque period (18th century AD) to in-depth microscopic, metagenomic, and proteomic analyses. The paleofeces were preserved in the underground salt mines of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Hallstatt in Austria. This allowed us to reconstruct the diet of the former population and gain insights into their ancient gut microbiome composition. Our dietary survey identified bran and glumes of different cereals as some of the most prevalent plant fragments. This highly fibrous, carbohydrate-rich diet was supplemented with proteins from broad beans and occasionally with fruits, nuts, or animal food products. Due to these traditional dietary habits, all ancient miners up to the Baroque period have gut microbiome structures akin to modern non-Westernized individuals whose diets are also mainly composed of unprocessed foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. This may indicate a shift in the gut community composition of modern Westernized populations due to quite recent dietary and lifestyle changes. When we extended our microbial survey to fungi present in the paleofeces, in one of the Iron Age samples, we observed a high abundance of Penicillium roqueforti and Saccharomyces cerevisiae DNA. Genome-wide analysis indicates that both fungi were involved in food fermentation and provides the first molecular evidence for blue cheese and beer consumption in Iron Age Europe.
posted by 15L06 (35 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Dedicated to Wordshore.
posted by 15L06 at 11:37 AM on October 13 [17 favorites]


In addition to the foxtail millet (S. italica), which appeared with high grain number, all the low abundant wild plants [...] Additional comparison with the bread wheat genome revealed an equal subgenome (A, B, and D) representation in the 2604 and 2610 metagenomic reads, which suggests, in combination with the microscopic identification of numerous characteristic grains, glumes, and spikelets, the presence of hexaploid spelt wheat (T. spelta) in these paleofeces

l m a o

I will never get tired of the paleo-diet getting paleo-shit on
posted by paimapi at 11:50 AM on October 13 [29 favorites]


Can I just say that P. roqueforti is one of my favorite bacteria?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:02 PM on October 13 [9 favorites]


Sigh. Will this be Ploptober, then?
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:15 PM on October 13 [4 favorites]


Paleofeces: that shit never gets old.
posted by y2karl at 12:19 PM on October 13 [44 favorites]


Cheese and beer???!?

Lo! I am become a true believer in and zealous defender of the Paleo diet!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 12:41 PM on October 13 [13 favorites]


Hairy Lobster, party in my cave!! (BYOB bring your own bacteria)
posted by supermedusa at 12:53 PM on October 13 [3 favorites]


I will never get tired of the paleo-diet getting paleo-shit on

Well, this article isn't really about the Paleolithic period - it's much later.

But I'm all with shitting on so-called "paleo diets". I recently read a book by a Paleolithic expert which convincingly argued (among other things) that cooked grains and other starches were essential to early humans getting enough calories to develop brains larger than the other apes. The only thing less evidence based than a paleo-diet is a raw food diet.

Dairy came much later - but (as this study supports) it was really important to people surviving -- that's why the gene spread so widely. (Also evolved several times in different populations in Eurasia and Africa).
posted by jb at 1:03 PM on October 13 [9 favorites]


Get up in the morning
slaving for bleu cheese
so that every mouth can have spelt
Oh, wah-oh, wah-oh
The Coprolites.
posted by bartleby at 1:18 PM on October 13 [16 favorites]


Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk (which may have been rec'd here on MF) is also a great read on the subject, from the view of science! and evolutionary biology! it examines the ideas around the 'paleo' lifestyle.
posted by supermedusa at 1:57 PM on October 13 [4 favorites]


I was coming in to recommend Paleofantasy which makes valuable points not just about what we know about our mythical ancestors but some severe misconceptions people get in school about the speed of evolution. If you think of evolution as a shift in gene frequency, then even a small advantage conferred by a gene that lets you drink milk as an adult, or better digest domesticated crops, will be nigh universal in a population in 100 generations or so.

Incidentally I learned about Marlene Zuk's book from Brenna Hasset, author of Built On Bones (my GoodReads review is here), which is more focused on the archaeological approach and timespan in TFA.

As has been pointed out, these paleofeces have nothing to do with the paleolithic era except for sharing the prefix "paleo." OTOH the paleo diet has nothing to do with the paleolithic era except for sharing a prefix as well, so snipe away.
posted by mark k at 3:01 PM on October 13 [7 favorites]


Archaeoloshit, then?
posted by bartleby at 3:36 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]


I will never get tired of the paleo-diet getting paleo-shit on

May I ask why?
posted by Beholder at 3:45 PM on October 13


I hate reading about early humans who still were born too late to be free the way animals are. I hope these ancient salt miners were happy.
posted by bleep at 4:12 PM on October 13 [1 favorite]


Are you happy?
posted by ryanrs at 6:47 PM on October 13 [2 favorites]


bleep, probably any member of the genus Homo was too late for that. Even great apes aren’t terribly free among themselves—they have brutal hierarchies and sometimes even wars.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:59 PM on October 13 [6 favorites]


As Camus more or less said, one must imagine shittyphus happy.

A+ for visual aids. Not only are there photos of the ancient crap, but a cross section map of the mines showing where the each of the plops was found.
posted by rodlymight at 9:28 PM on October 13 [3 favorites]


"Due to these traditional dietary habits, all ancient miners up to the Baroque period have gut microbiome structures akin to modern non-Westernized individuals whose diets are also mainly composed of unprocessed foods and fresh fruits and vegetables. "

So I'm curious... what changed in the Baroque period? That would be pre-industrialization but post-widespread-introduction of maize and potatoes from what I remember. Having a hard time finding much substantial information on dietary changes for that period.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:28 PM on October 13 [2 favorites]


Figure 2a shows all four samples, including the Baroque one, plotting with non-Westernized diets. Where the article says
all ancient miners up to the Baroque period have gut microbiome structures akin to modern non-Westernized individuals
I’d parse "up to" as "up to and including".

I can’t follow the deductions about the Roquefort bacteria's history, but I’m impressed that the early cheeses were apparently coëval with the lactose-digestion mutation spreading through the population. There’s a puzzle for the pre scientific cheese maker - did I make a bad batch or do my new customers (?) not digest milk?
posted by clew at 10:13 PM on October 13 [2 favorites]


Oh and! The changes in the Baroque period were that the grains were ground instead of whole (eg bread instead of porridge) and there were fewer wild fruits. Water mills spread after the Black Death I think? And maybe the wild understory was over harvested or enclosed by then.
posted by clew at 10:16 PM on October 13 [6 favorites]


It's a very easy mistake to make, and no one should feel in the least bad about it, but Penicillium roqueforti is not a bacterium. A fungus is among us — and has been for a long time, apparently.
posted by jamjam at 11:19 PM on October 13 [6 favorites]


Sample 2604 looks like a bear's head, but maybe after fat bear week I see them everywhere.
posted by inexorably_forward at 3:50 AM on October 14 [1 favorite]


Cheese and Beer eh, Go Packers!
posted by Capricorn13 at 8:04 AM on October 14 [3 favorites]


It's a very easy mistake to make, and no one should feel in the least bad about it, but Penicillium roqueforti is not a bacterium. A fungus is among us — and has been for a long time, apparently.

Can I just say that P. roqueforti is one of my favorite fungi?
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:10 AM on October 14 [2 favorites]


Mining salt is hard work, I'm dying for a shit, I don't want to risk my supervisors wrath over trying to get out to the bushes, imma just squat one right down here in this mine. No one will ever know.
posted by The otter lady at 9:51 AM on October 14 [6 favorites]


May I ask why?

sure. it's part of this line of anti-historical/anti-scientific 'fall-of-man' thinking that codes subversively Christian that carries forward the theme that there existed a more perfect, exalted past (where it just so happens that people like me had a high chance of being murdered)

there's also not good evidence for it esp compared to things like the Mediterranean diet and may even be straight up bad for you

it also encourages high consumption of meat which is environmentally disastrous and unethical

it's also based on a cartoon version of history so even its basic, most foundational principles are just wrong
posted by paimapi at 10:49 AM on October 14 [8 favorites]


And if I can jump on the paleo train here... usually it isn't even what it says it is. I mean c'mon, coconut oil? Doesn't that require the invention of the press?
posted by inexorably_forward at 1:11 PM on October 14


coconut oil? Doesn't that require the invention of the press?

Not really, i believe you can extract oil by heating coconut milk, which can be extracted by hand, after scraping with some pretty simple tools.
posted by lemur at 2:03 PM on October 14 [1 favorite]


For another famous example of archaeologically significant feces, we have the Lloyd's Bank Coprolite, which dates back to the Scandinavian settlement at York.

While we do not know if the source of the coprolite was Christian, or worshiped the Norse gods, I think it's safe to assume that "God of Thunder" was uttered at least once during its production.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:33 PM on October 14 [2 favorites]


inexorably_forward: "And if I can jump on the paleo train here... usually it isn't even what it says it is. "

The 'science' behind paleo is at its best Flinstones level and at its worst The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show level.
posted by signal at 4:08 PM on October 14 [3 favorites]


archaeologically significant feces

Quality user name alert!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:31 PM on October 14 [5 favorites]


I was reading an endless biography of Johann Sebastian Bach and the author mentioned that Bach probably never ate potatoes, and spent a few paragraphs on the history of potatoes before moving on, perhaps demonstrating why the biography was so endless, but I never think of Bach now without remembering the potato pancakes he never enjoyed.

But yeah, Penicillium roqueforti is a fungus.
posted by acrasis at 5:10 PM on October 14 [6 favorites]


I will never get tired of the paleo-diet getting paleo-shit on
posted by paimapi at 3:50 AM on October 14 [27 favorites +] [!]


You say that now, but wait until paleo-gut biome transplants become the next big thing. We live in a world of CRISPR, 3D printed guns, and Joe Rogan.
posted by saysthis at 5:56 PM on October 14


Also, the Baroque period would have been precisely the time that the potato was gaining widespread popularity in Northern Europe, which would lead to a sort of "starch revolution" in the diets of working people.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:04 PM on October 14 [2 favorites]


imma just squat one right down here in this mine. No one will ever know.
So basically this except human feces.
posted by Tehhund at 1:02 PM on October 15


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