The solidified whitish mass found some years back by a team of archaeologists during an excavation from an Egyptian tomb, has been identified as a 3,200-year-old piece of cheese.
Tests showed the cheese had been made from a mixture of cow and sheep, or goat, milk. The tomb is located south of Cairo in Saqqara, also known as the "City of the Dead", and houses ancient artifacts like amulets, clay vessels, and figurines.
Archaeologists reckon they've uncovered the world's oldest cheese in Egypt, maturing for more than 3000 years in an ancient tomb. The tomb of Ptahmes, the mayor of ancient Memphis, was initially discovered in 1885 but had been swallowed by shifting sands until its rediscovery in 2010.
The ancient cheese looked like this, but 3,300 years older and likely a million times moldier.
A jar found contained solidified whitish mass.
Older samples discovered elsewhere were "more attributable to natural fermented milk like yogurt or kefir". After dissolving a sample and extracting the protein constituents, they realized they had found the rudimentary remains of a hunk of cheese, once wrapped in canvas fabric and preserved in the earthenware jar.
"The archaeologists suspected it was a kind of food left for the owner of the tomb and they chose to ask for chemical analyses", said lead author Enrico Greco, a leader in the new field of ancient food discoveries known as 'archaeofood'.
If the preliminary analysis is confirmed, the sample would represent the earliest reported biomolecular evidence of the disease, the researchers noted. It's a disease that spreads to animals to people, typically after eating unpasteurised dairy products.
Despite finding the cheese, scientists have not been able to find the mummified body of Ptahmes nor the rest of his family.
"Until now, we were not sure whether it was really part of the daily life of the ancient Egyptians", said Greco.