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The fragment of bread retrieved from an oven in Çatalhöyük. Source: Erbakan

World’s Oldest Fermented Bread, Dated to 6,600 BC, Found at Çatalhöyük


During excavations two years ago at the famous ancient Anatolian city of Çatalhöyük, archaeologists uncovered a large furnace-like structure that would have been used as a communal oven. They also found traces of vegetable and food remains inside the structure, including an unusual spongy residue with a curious texture. Testing carried out at the Necmettin Erbaken University Science and Technology Research and Application Center (BİTAM) revealed that this strange substance was actually the remains of fermented bread, which radiocarbon dating revealed was made originally around 6,600 BC!

“We can say that this finding in Çatalhöyük is the world’s oldest bread,” Ali Umut Türkcan, an archaeologist at Anadolu University and the leader of the excavation team that discovered the bread, told the Anadolu Agency. “Considering observations, analyses and dating, we estimate this organic residue to be approximately 8,600 years old.”

Excavations at Çatalhöyük, the oldest town of Anatolia.  (GeniusMinus/Adobe Stock)

Excavations at Çatalhöyük, the oldest town of Anatolia.  (GeniusMinus/Adobe Stock)

The researchers from BİTAM were able to determine that this was a commonly produced bread, small in size and likely consumed regularly by a significant portion of the 7-10,000 people who resided in Çatalhöyük in 6600 BC. Interestingly, the bread had not actually been made in the large oven inside which it was found.

“It’s a miniature version of a loaf of bread,” Turkcan explained. “It hasn’t been baked in the oven but has fermented, preserving the starches. Such an example hasn’t existed until now.”

Technically speaking, Türkcan’s assertion about the newly discovered bread being the world’s oldest is incorrect. Several years ago archaeologists found scraps of what was identified as flatbread at a 14,000-year-old hunter-gatherer site in Jordan known as Shubayqa. And more recently there was a report of bread of 34,000 years old in Australia.

But the new discovery does seem to be the oldest form of fermented bread ever found, which does give the Çatalhöyük “artifact” a certain distinction.

Still More Wonders Found at the Ancient City of Çatalhöyük

If it were still standing today, the dense, honeycomb-shaped city of Çatalhöyük on the Konya Plain in Turkey’s Cumra district would be recognized as one of the true wonders of the ancient world.

Occupied from approximately 7,500 to 6,400 BC, this remarkable urban housing project was comprised exclusively of mudbrick domestic buildings or homes, which were so closely packed together that it was possible to travel across the city by hopping from roof to roof (which is exactly what its residents did, since they would have to climb down ladders to enter someone’s home at ground level). Çatalhöyük was spread out over just 34 acres (14 hectares) of land, and the only way to fit as many as 10,000 people into such a small space was to follow the development plan the city’s leaders adopted.

The combined rooftops of the hundreds of structures in Çatalhöyük likely functioned as a public plaza or square, where people shared communal feasts that were cooked or baked in community ovens and kitchens. The furnace structure unearthed during the recent excavations was found in an area known as Mekan 66, and was surrounded by mudbrick homes on all sides.

The fermented bread was not the only organic substance found near the oven. Archaeologists also collected the remains of wheat, barley and pea seeds, as might be expected in what would have been a busy location where foods of all types were constantly being prepared 8,000 years ago.

Food Archaeology Advancing by Leaps and Bounds in Turkey

According to Ali Umut Türkcan, the discovery of the food remains at Çatalhöyük highlights the progress being made in the growing field of food archaeology.

"We need to say that the starting point of food archeology is Anatolia,” he stated in a  BİTAM press release. “Çatalhöyük is one of the very important stops here.”

The bread and other organic residues were originally discovered in 2021. There was a thin clay layer covering the large furnace, and it was this that kept the organic substances preserved for thousands of years.

“With meticulous documentation, we identified the small, round, spongy artifact found in the oven corner as bread,” Türkcan said. “Radiocarbon tests at TUBITEK Marmara Research Center (MAM) suggested our sample could date back to around 6,600 BC.”

Türkcan praised the breakthrough work performed by the experts at BiTAM, who are on the leading edge of research in food archaeology.

"It is a great chance to be able to conduct all full-fledged analyses in the laboratories of Necmettin Erbakan University,” he declared. “It was important because it was presented for the first time in laboratories in Turkey."

Speaking as a representative of the university, Dr. Oguz Dogan explained how they identified the mysterious substance as bread.

“In this study in Çatalhöyük, our professors guessed that a residue they found might be bread and contacted us to analyze it,” he explained. “We took the sample and conducted comprehensive analysis with high-tech devices at our university's Science and Technology Research and Application Center (BİTAM), and determined that the sample was the oldest bread in the world. We attach importance to the fact that both the excavation team and the analysis team are in the same region and that this [was] accomplished with local resources.”

The installation identified as Mekan 66 is not the first communal oven or kitchen found at Çatalhöyük. The advances in organic residue analysis demonstrated by the scientists at BİTAM may lead to a reexamination of some of these other sites, to see if any organic residues may have been overlooked during past explorations. If they have been, it may be possible to collect samples and perform the same type of analysis on that led to the discovery of the world’s oldest surviving fermented bread.

Top image: The fragment of bread retrieved from an oven in Çatalhöyük. Source: Erbakan

By Nathan Falde

Nathan Falde's picture


Nathan Falde graduated from American Public University in 2010 with a Bachelors Degree in History, and has a long-standing fascination with ancient history, historical mysteries, mythology, astronomy and esoteric topics of all types. He is a full-time freelance writer from... Read More

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