An archaeological study of baking and bread in New Kingdom Egypt
This research applies a multi-disciplinary approach based on the archaeological record, to bread, a staple item of diet in ancient Egypt. Desiccated ancient loaves and artefacts connected with post-storage crop processing at settlement sites are the prime sources of data. They have been interpreted with reference to appropriate ethnographic analogies and to information about starch microstructure and its transformation under different processing techniques. These sources of evidence, together with experimental replication, have established that New Kingdom Egyptians obtained clean grain from emmer spikelets by dampening and pounding the spikelets in limestone mortars with wooden pestles, which shredded the chaff and freed whole grain. The mixture was dried, winnowed and sieved. The whole grain was then milled on a saddle quern, on which any desired grade of flour could be produced. This work has disproved the widely quoted hypothesis that addition of grit was needed to mill flour with the saddle quern. Identification and distribution of cereal processing artefacts have been linked to household self-sufficiency and general transport of cereal commodities. The study of actual ancient loaves has established a range of shapes, how they were formed, and that shape is not related to recipe. Emmer wheat was the cereal used for the great majority of the loaves examined, including those now held at the British Museum, the Louvre, and the Egyptian Museum, Turin. Occasional ingredients include fig, coriander and date. Barley was not an intentional addition. The analysis of starch from ancient loaves by optical and scanning electron microscopy has shown different patterns of germination and gelatinization, leading to the development of three different models for baking in New Kingdom Egypt. Bread was baked from untreated raw emmer, or from germinated emmer which was then air-dried and milled, or thirdly, from germinated emmer which was roasted prior to milling. These results have implications for the nutritional quality of bread, and for reinterpretation of the archaeological record.