Scientists can learn a lot about past cultures by studying the pots and dishes they used everyday. Even after thousands of years, the crumbs and leftovers stuck inside old pots can tell us about what people ate, how they cooked, and what their lives were like.

Two professors, Dr. Barcons and Professor Özbal, recently found new ways these old pots can teach us. They looked at really old pots dating back over 7,000 years that were dug up in mediterranean places from Spain to Türkiye. Inside the crumbs in these ancient dishes, they discovered some mysterious ingredients no one had seen before.

At first, the scientists didn’t understand where these mystery ingredients came from. But they had a hunch the ingredients might be from special old-time cooking methods that changed the way fat and oil acted when heated.

To figure it out, the professors did some detective work. As technology advanced, they could do more detailed studies of what the pots were used for long ago, so after doing extra chemistry tests, they discovered two new chemical reactions that could explain the mystery ingredients.

To prove their theory, the scientists did some fun experiments. They mixed common things like olive oil and leaves with fragments of really old pots. Then they heated the mixtures at different temperatures, like an ancient cook might. After testing the leftovers, they found the mystery ingredients in the pot shards.

It turned out the mystery ingredients were created by long cooking over fires, just like the professors suspected. So finding these ingredients in old pots proves the pots were used for cooking a long time ago, leading the professors to discover two new “biomarkers”, or signs, that no one knew about before.

This means scientists can now use these new biomarkers as clues to learn if other ancient pots were also used for cooking over fires. These old pots contain secrets that help uncover our history.


Sources

Koc University | PNAS | Adrià Breu, Ayla Türkekul, et al., Caution! Contents were hot: Novel biomarkers to detect the heating of fatty acids in residues from pottery use. Journal of Archaeological Science vol.159, doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2023.105854


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