Science

White stuff from tomb is world's oldest cheese

White stuff from tomb is world...
A sample of the cheese, in a modern container
A sample of the cheese, in a modern container
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The cheese was initially collected during excavations conducted by a team from Saqqara Cairo University 
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The cheese was initially collected during excavations conducted by a team from Saqqara Cairo University 
A sample of the cheese, in a modern container
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A sample of the cheese, in a modern container

Ptahmes was the mayor of Egypt's capital city of Memphis during the 13th century BC, and when his body was entombed, a mysterious substance was put in with it. According to a new study, that substance has turned out to be what is the oldest solid cheese ever discovered.

The tomb of Ptahmes was first discovered in 1885, after which it was covered by drifting sands and then rediscovered in 2010. A few years later, several broken jars were found in the tomb, one of which contained a "solidified whitish mass" along with canvas fabric.

Recently, a team led by Enrico Greco PhD (of Italy's University of Catania and China's Peking University) set out to determine just what that white matter was.

The cheese was initially collected during excavations conducted by a team from Saqqara Cairo University 
The cheese was initially collected during excavations conducted by a team from Saqqara Cairo University 

In the process of doing so, the researchers first dissolved a sample, purified its protein constituents, and then analyzed them via liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry. This revealed peptides which indicated that the substance was a dairy product, and that it was made from cow milk and sheep or goat milk. Additionally, the absence of certain other compounds suggested that it was in fact solid cheese.

Supporting this conclusion is the fact that the type of canvas found with the substance would be well-suited to containing a solid, but not a liquid.

Hopefully, though, none of the ancient Egyptians sampled the cheese before putting it in the tomb. Some of the other peptides found in it indicated that it was contaminated with Brucella melitensis, a bacterium that causes the potentially-deadly disease brucellosis. The illness is typically transmitted from animals to humans via the consumption of unpasteurized dairy products.

A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

Source: American Chemical Society

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