World's Oldest Cheese Discovered on Perfectly-preserved Chinese Mummies

Cheese found in 10 tombs and mummies, including that of the so-called Beauty of Xiaohe - a 3,800-year-old female mummy with Caucasian features.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

The world's oldest cheese has been found on the necks and chests of perfectly preserved mummies buried in China's desert sand, according to Discovery News.

Dating back as early as 1615 B.C.E., the lumps of yellowish organic material have provided direct evidence for the oldest known dairy fermentation method. The individuals were likely buried with the cheese so they could savor it in the afterlife.

Although cheese-making is known from sites in northern Europe dating back as early as the sixth millennium B.C.E. and was common in Egypt and Mesopotamia in the third millennium B.C.E., no remains of ancient cheeses had been found until now.

The 3,600-year-old cheese was discovered during archaeological excavations between 2002 and 2004 at the Xiaohe cemetery, in the inhospitable Taklamakan desert in northwestern China.

The researchers collected 13 samples of the yellowish organic material from 10 tombs and mummies, which included the so-called Beauty of Xiaohe - a 3,800-year-old female mummy with Caucasian features and wrapped in a finely crafted shroud.

Protein analysis showed the organic material wasn't butter or milk, but a cheese made by robust, easily scalable kefir fermentation.

The cemetery was built on a large natural dune and houses hundreds of mysterious mummies with Caucasian features, buried in massive wooden coffins resembling upside-down boats. Recent DNA studies have shown that the population of the sites was mixed, European and Asian.

Taklamakan literally means "go in and you won't come out." The area, with its salty, hyper-dry sands, which is extreme hot in summer and cold in winter, provided the perfect conditions for natural mummification.

Moreover, the boat-like coffins were covered by several layers of cowhide, which sealed them from air, water and sand as if they had been "vacuum-packed."

The Beauty of Xiaohe.Credit: Screenshot

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

Already signed up? LOG IN


Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, this month.

Lapid to Haaretz: ‘I Have Learned to Respect the Left’

“Dubi,” whose full name is secret in keeping with instructions from the Mossad.

The Mossad’s Fateful 48 Hours Before the Yom Kippur War

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer