Until recently I had, and maybe you do too, the story of the Egyptians (-4000 BC), who used to eat mainly some kind of pancakes, made with a cereal porridge and then cooked in the oven. One day, according to the legend, a cake was forgotten, fermented and leavened, and instead of throwing it away, they decided to cook it anyway. Surprise, it was better than the patties. Bread had just been invented.
I love these beautiful stories or legends, easy to remember and always well timed. How they have survived the centuries? Mystery, but they are there.
So, the bread is the Egyptians, around 4000 BC? Not so simple... One could say that for bread to be invented, agriculture had to be invented, and in particular the cultivation of cereals?
But agriculture began around 11,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, an area that straddles Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Iran of today.
In 1928, Dorothy Garrod
, a British archaeologist, discovered an archaeological culture of hunter-gatherers from the Middle East who lived between 14,000 and 11,000 years ago. She named them "Natoufians" from the site of Ouadi-en-Natouf in the West Bank.
The Natufians did not practice agriculture, they did not plant or harvest, but on the other hand they picked and collected cereals of the time (starch, einkorn, ...) when they found them. We also discovered in their tools what seems to be the ancestor of the sickle, made of flint.
These seeds were crushed between 2 stones or in mortars, then roasted and eaten. Long before the Natufians, around the Lake of Tiberias in Israel, traces of a fireplace with wild barley and roasted starch were found in a cave dating back to 22,000 years ago.
What about bread?
The Natufians at one time settled in the Wadi rum, the black desert of Jordan, at the time fertile and watered.
In this desert, on the excavation site of Shubayqa 1, we found a hearth, in the center of the photo, not yet an oven, with remains of cooking, burned, which have crossed the millennia.
After analysis with an electron microscope and dating with carbon 14, it appears that these remains are the cooking of pasta made of kneaded wild cereal flour. Flours that were made by grinding, then sieving or winnowing. The dough obtained with the addition of water, was cooked in a fireplace, it rose very little, it was a kind of flat bread, but it was already bread, the first breads in the history of mankind probably, 14 000 years ago.
Many questions remain unanswered after this extraordinary discovery, and in particular if the fact that the bread has little leavened is a choice of the Natoufians or an emergency of the time (we had to leave, and quickly)? Which, by the way, makes a beautiful parallel with the flight of the Hebrews from Egypt and unleavened bread, millennia later.
From all this, I think we should remember several things:
- Baking preceded agriculture, and not the other way around, in other words, the first men did not wait to cultivate cereals to make bread, they first baked, and only then did they plant and harvest cereals, thousands of years later.
- The first bakers in the history of mankind were therefore probably Natufians, in present-day Jordan.
- Bread is a food that has accompanied humans since the dawn of time, it is the source of life and evolution of our species, we must never forget it.
If you want to know more about it, I invite you to listen to the episode
of Jean Claude Ameisen's fascinating program on France-Inter "Sur les épaules de Darwin" (On Darwin's shoulders) dedicated to the history of bread, only in french.
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