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These scientists have spent years analyzing 2,700-year-old feces to discover why our intestinal flora makes us sick.

The Hallstatt Mine is a web of galleries and passageways that, at an altitude of more than 800 meters, pierces the remains of an ancient sea. They say it is the oldest salt mine in the world and that Men have been drilling the stones of that Austrian mountain for more than 7,000 years looking for that highly valued white gold. They say much more, but Hallstatt is best known for the huge cemetery with 1,200 Bronze Age men, women and children found in the bowels of the mine in 1824.

However, today we are not going to talk about elaborate axes, delicate clothing or perfectly preserved remains: let’s talk about excrement. Because yes, thanks to the constant temperatures and high concentrations of salt, a lot of excrement is kept in the Hallstatt Mine. Excrement that, with the new technologies that we have, are making us realize that the diet of 2,700 years ago is not that different from today.

Blue cheese and beer!

If we save distances, of course. 2,700 years ago, there were no potatoes, no tomatoes, and no cocoa in Austria. They didn’t have microwaves, food machines, or low-temperature cooking pots. They couldn’t give themselves a tribute in a Segovian steakhouse, order a couple of pizzas or spend the afternoon drinking coffee in a seedy bar. Nevertheless, the latest studies on Hallstatt droppings have surprising news: the feasts of beer and blue cheese, without going any further.

To be exact, the study published in ‘Current Biology’ a few days ago found two fungi: the Penicillium roqueforti and the Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Both old known for today’s industrial processes and excelling at what was otherwise a well-balanced diet based on cereals, some fruits, legumes, and meats, more sporadically.

As we can see, the diet is substantially identical to ours. And, in fact, the surprising thing is that we did not know that techniques as “sophisticated” as those we have found were used at that time. Frank Maixner, the microbiologist at the Eurac Research Institute in Bolzano who is working on these issues, explained that it was not expected that more than two millennia ago salt miners were advanced enough to “use fermentation intentionally.”

Tobacco was also used! Much earlier, in fact. In a study that is, of course, unrelated to this one by Hallstatt’s salt miners, the first evidence has just been provided that Native Americans used tobacco 9,000 years earlier than previously thought.

This is the first evidence of cheese maturation in Europe. There is nothing. And, although we know from archaeological remains that beer was made long before, this is the first time that we have found molecular evidence of alcohol consumption. “It is becoming increasingly clear not only prehistoric culinary practices were sophisticated, but also that complex processed food products, as well as the fermentation technique, have played a prominent role in our early food history “, explained in The Guardian, Kerstin Kowarik, of the Museum of Natural History in Vienna.

Bacteria in our stomach can also produce electricity

But perhaps the most interesting thing about this is the least conspicuous. The researchers coordinated by Maixner also found a fairly complete record of the microbiota of the salt miners. And here, the surprise is that this microbiota is very similar to that of modern non-industrialized populations. Everything seems to indicate that the change in our instentinal flora is something “recent”, the result of modern life, ultra-processed diet or medical advances. “We will have to return to this because the microbiota is an essential element of the new medicine that we are beginning to explore.

Image | Iswanto Arif