Bread was just discovered in an archeological site in Jordan. Why is this a big deal? Because the bread is around 14,000 years old. It’s widely accepted that humans began agriculture around 10,000 years ago. This means the discovered bread is 4,000ish years older than agriculture.
Does 14,000 Year Old Bread Make It Paleo Approved?
Here is the article about the 14,000-year-old bread if you’d like to read it yourself.
Before I start down this road, diets are personal. Bread, paleo or not, works for some people and not for others. I just thought I would offer my opinion on whether or not this proves bread has been a long-term human food. Long-term meaning a significant percentage of modern human’s history.
Grains can be made safe for human consumption but it requires processing.
Let’s start there. If you want to eat grain, you should be doing one of three things first. You should be soaking the grain overnight, fermenting flour, or you should be sprouting the grain. This is a topic for another post, but suffice it to say grain needs treatment to be a decent food source for humans in large quantities. This alone is evidence that some technology application is necessary for humans to eat large amounts of grain without adverse health effects.
There is significant evidence that early agricultural societies were not practicing these techniques. This very much refutes that grain was a large part of the human diet prior to agriculture.
Also, the Paleolithic area ended roughly 12,000 years ago. So that means this bread came toward the end of the Paleolithic era. For some perspective, the paleolithic era started about 3,300,000 years ago. So this bread was discovered in the time period one would assume humans were slowly making the transition toward villages and agriculture.
This discovered bread comes at the last .36% of the Paleolithic era. Roughly of course. I have no doubt humans were eating grain before they started farming. You wouldn’t plant an orchard if you’d never eaten an apple, would you? But that doesn’t mean it was a staple at this point or before.
Modern humans, homo sapiens, is believed to be about 300,000 years old now. So this bread occurs in about the last 4% of modern human history.
This Bread Is Very Different From Modern Bread
This 14,000-year-old bread is different from modern bread in multiple ways. The first way is that it isn’t made from just grain. It also includes tubers, like a potato. The second way it’s different is that it isn’t made from modern domestic grains. It’s made from wild grain that people gathered.
Wild grains, like einkorn, are different from modern varieties that we have selectively bred over thousands of years for agriculture. Much like modern cattle are different from the ancient aurochs they’re descended from, modern grains are different from ancient grains.
One of the best examples of how our agricultural selection has changed a grain is corn. Seed heads are gradually selected to be larger with more grain, and the grains are selected to be larger as well. We do this because it increases yield. Not because it’s a more nutritious product.
There is an excellent picture of the differences between wild maize and modern corn in the second link included above.
Also different between ancient grains and modern store-bought grains is that a part of the harvest process for industrially harvested wheat is to spray it with glyphosate shortly before harvest. This kills the plant and hardens the berries to make for an easier harvest. However, it means the berries are drenched in herbicide very shortly before harvest. This very likely lingers by the time it gets to your plate.
The Grain To Bread Process Is Different Now
I don’t know about you, but I’m not really big on walking around gathering grass seeds (wheat berries) in large enough quantities to make a loaf of bread. And I’m definitely not grinding all that wheat by hand between two stones. I have turned uncooked rice into fine rice flour with a granite mortar and pestle. It was a lot of work. And that was a very small quantity.
Collecting grain and making bread with Paleolithic technology is very time consuming and labor intensive. You would have to cut the seed heads off and collect them. Then you would have to separate the berries from the heads. Last you would have to pound and grind the berries into flour. This would all be done with stone-age tools.
Another thing to keep in mind, the oldest discovered pot is about 10,000 years old. It would be very challenging to store large amounts of grain without pottery. So grain was likely seasonally gathered and eaten when available rather than stored long-term.
All of this is now handled with mechanized equipment. You can just go to the store and buy pounds of flour for very little money. We have little appreciation for what is involved in producing the flour before we get there. Let’s overlook what farming and harvesting the wheat is like without modern technology…
Our Perception Of Technology Adoption Is Skewed
The last factor I want to look at is the fact that this 4,000 years before agriculture fact seems significant. Technology changes at a break-neck pace today. I’m 36 and I’ve seen the world go from not even having answering machines to a literal miracle of technology called a smartphone that everyone I know carries in his/her pocket everywhere.
When technology changes that fast, of course, 4,000 years seems like a long time. It took thousands of years for people to move from the atlatl, a spear-throwing hunting weapon, to the bow and arrow. Technological advances did not happen as fast as they do now.
Look at how long it took to move from walking, to horse powered locomotion, to cars. It’s likely four thousand years is just how long it took people to adopt new technology then. The human lifespan puts an interesting twist on time. Anything over a few hundred years seems like a really long time.
So, Is Bread Paleo Or Not
I highly doubt that bread was a staple human food of the Paleolithic era. But I also don’t doubt that humans were making something like this bread at least a little prior to 14,000 years ago. That said, I don’t consider bread Paleo. If you do treat grain in one of the three ways you can definitely eat it. Even though, I don’t think it should be a mainstay of your nutrition, who doesn’t love good sourdough bread and good beer occasionally!?
If you disagree with me, that’s cool too. I’m open to hearing your reasoning. I think this is an incredibly interesting topic. And just so ya know, I don’t eat strict Paleo. I eat what works for me as you should too.